Convention on the High Seas, 1958*
The States Parties to this Convention,
Desiring to codify the rules of international law relating
to the high seas,
Recognizing that the United Nations Conference on the
Law of the Sea, held at Geneva from 24 February to 27 April 1958, adopted
the following provisions as generally declaratory of established principles
of international law,
Have agreed as follows:
The term "high seas" means all parts
of the sea that are not included in the territorial sea or in the internal
waters of a State.
The high seas being open to all nations,
no State may validly purport to subject any part of them to its sovereignty.
Freedom of the high seas is exercised under the conditions laid down by
these articles and by the other rules of international law. It comprises,
inter alia, both for coastal and non-coastal States:
(1) Freedom of navigation;
These freedoms, and others which are recognized by the general
principles of international law, shall be exercised by all States with
reasonable regard to the interests of other States in their exercise of
the freedom of the high seas.
(2) Freedom of fishing;
(3) Freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines;
(4) Freedom to fly over the high seas.
1. In order to enjoy the freedom of
the seas on equal terms with coastal States, States having no sea-coast
should have free access to the sea. To this end States situated between
the sea and a State having no sea-coast shall by common agreement with
the latter, and in conformity with existing international conventions,
(a) To the State having no sea-coast, on a basis of reciprocity,
free transit through their territory; and
2. States situated between the sea and
a State having no sea-coast shall settle, by mutual agreement with the
latter, and taking into account the rights of the coastal State or State
of transit and the special conditions of the State having no sea-coast,
all matters relating to freedom of transit and equal treatment in ports,
in case such States are not already parties to existing international conventions.
(b) To ships flying the flag of that State treatment equal
to that accorded to their own ships, or to the ships of any other States,
as regards access to seaports and the use of such ports.
Every State, whether coastal or not,
has the right to sail ships under its flag on the high seas.
1. Each State shall fix the conditions
for the grant of its nationality to ships, for the registration of ships
in its territory, and for the right to fly its flag. Ships have the nationality
of the State whose flag they are entitled to fly. There must exist a genuine
link between the State and the ship; in particular, the State must effectively
exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and
social matters over ships flying its flag.
2. Each State shall issue to ships
to which it has granted the right to fly its flag documents to that effect.
1. Ships shall sail under the flag
of one State only and, save in exceptional cases expressly provided for
in international treaties or in these articles, shall be subject to its
exclusive jurisdiction on the high seas. A ship may not change its flag
during a voyage or while in a port of call, save in the case of a real
transfer of ownership or change of registry.
2. A ship which sails under the flags
of two or more States, using them according to convenience, may not claim
any of the nationalities in question with respect to any other State, and
may be assimilated to a ship without nationality.
The provisions of the preceding articles
do not prejudice the question of ships employed on the official service
of an inter-governmental organization flying the flag of the organization.
1. Warships on the high seas have complete
immunity from the jurisdiction of any State other than the flag State.
2. For the purposes of these articles,
the term "warship" means a ship belonging to the naval forces of a State
and bearing the external marks distinguishing warships of its nationality,
under the command of an officer duly commissioned by the government and
whose name appears in the Navy List, and manned by a crew who are under
regular naval discipline.
Ships owned or operated by a State
and used only on government noncommercial service shall, on the high seas,
have complete immunity from the jurisdiction of any State other than the
1. Every State shall take such measures
for ships under its flag as are necessary to ensure safety at sea with
regard inter alia to:
(a) The use of signals, the maintenance of communications
and the prevention of collisions;
2. In taking such measures each State is
required to conform to generally accepted international standards and to
take any steps which may be necessary to ensure their observance.
(b) The manning of ships and labour conditions for crews
taking into account the applicable international labour instruments;
(c) The construction, equipment and seaworthiness of ships.
1. In the event of a collision or of
any other incident of navigation concerning a ship on the high seas, involving
the penal or disciplinary responsibility of the master or of any other
person in the service of the ship, no penal or disciplinary proceedings
may be instituted against such persons except before the judicial or administrative
authorities either of the flag State or of the State of which such person
is a national.
2. In disciplinary matters, the State
which has issued a master's certificate or a certificate of competence
or licence shall alone be competent, after due legal process, to pronounce
the withdrawal of such certificates, even if the holder is not a national
of the State which issued them.
3. No arrest or detention of the ship,
even as a measure of investigation, shall be ordered by any authorities
other than those of the flag State.
1. Every State shall require the master
of a ship sailing under its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious
danger to the ship, the crew or the passengers,
(a) To render assistance to any person found at sea in
danger of being lost;
2. Every coastal State shall promote the
establishment and maintenance of an adequate and effective search and rescue
service regarding safety on and over the sea and--where circumstances so
require--by way of mutual regional arrangements co-operate with neighbouring
States for this purpose.
(b) To proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of
persons in distress if informed of their need of assistance, in so far
as such action may reasonably be expected of him;
(c) After a collision, to render assistance to the other
ship, her crew and her passengers and, where possible, to inform the other
ship of the name of his own ship, her port of registry and the nearest
port at which she will call.
Every State shall adopt effective
measures to prevent and punish the transport of slaves in ships authorized
to fly its flag, and to prevent the unlawful use of its flag for that purpose.
Any slave taking refuge on board any ship, whatever its flag, shall ipso
facto be free.
All States shall co-operate to the
fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or
in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.
Piracy consists of any of the following
(1) Any illegal acts of violence, detention or any act
of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers
of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
(a) On the high seas, against another ship or aircraft,
or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(2) Any act of voluntary participation in the operation of
a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship
(b) Against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a
place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
(3) Any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating
an act described in sub-paragraph 1 or sub-paragraph 2 of this article.
The acts of piracy, as defined in
article 15, committed by a warship, government ship or government aircraft
whose crew has mutinied and taken control of the ship or aircraft are assimilated
to acts committed by a private ship.
A ship or aircraft is considered a
pirate ship or aircraft if it is intended by the persons in dominant control
to be used for the purpose of committing one of the acts referred to in
article 15. The same applies if the ship or aircraft has been used to commit
any such act, so long as it remains under the control of the persons guilty
of that act.
A ship or aircraft may retain its
nationality although it has become a pirate ship or aircraft. The retention
or loss of nationality is determined by the law of the State from which
such nationality was derived.
On the high seas, or in any other
place outside the jurisdiction of any State, every State may seize a pirate
ship or aircraft, or a ship taken by piracy and under the control of pirates,
and arrest the persons and seize the property on board. The courts of the
State which carried out the seizure may decide upon the penalties to be
imposed, and may also determine the action to be taken with regard to the
ships, aircraft or property, subject to the rights of third parties acting
in good faith.
Where the seizure of a ship or aircraft
on suspicion of piracy has been effected without adequate grounds, the
State making the seizure shall be liable to the State the nationality of
which is possessed by the ship or aircraft, for any loss or damage caused
by the seizure.
A seizure on account of piracy may
only be carried out by warships or military aircraft, or other ships or
aircraft on government service authorized to that effect.
1. Except where acts of interference
derive from powers conferred by treaty, a warship which encounters a foreign
merchant ship on the high seas is not justified in boarding her unless
there is reasonable ground for suspecting:
(a) That the ship is engaged in piracy; or
2. In the cases provided for in sub-paragraphs
(a), (b) and (c) above, the warship may proceed to verify the ship's right
to fly its flag. To this end, it may send a boat under the command of an
officer to the suspected ship. If suspicion remains after the documents
have been checked, it may proceed to a further examination on board the
ship, which must be carried out with all possible consideration.
(b) That the ship is engaged in the slave trade; or
(c) That though flying a foreign flag or refusing to show
its flag, the ship is, in reality, of the same nationality as the warship.
3. If the suspicions prove to be unfounded,
and provided that the ship boarded has not committed any act justifying
them, it shall be compensated for any loss or damage that may have been
1. The hot pursuit of a foreign ship
may be undertaken when the competent authorities of the coastal State have
good reason to believe that the ship has violated the laws and regulations
of that State. Such pursuit must be commenced when the foreign ship or
one of its boats is within the internal waters or the territorial sea or
the ntiguous zone of the pursuing State, and may only be continued outside
the territorial sea or the contiguous zone if the pursuit has not been
interrupted. It is not necessary that, at the time when the foreign ship
within the territorial sea or the contiguous zone receives the order to
stop, the ship giving the order should likewise be within the territorial
sea or the contiguous zone. If the foreign ship is within a contiguous
zone, as defined in article 24 of the Convention on the Territorial Sea
and the Contiguous Zone, the pursuit may only be undertaken if there has
been a violation of the rights for the protection of which the zone was
2. The right of hot pursuit ceases as
soon as the ship pursued enters the territorial sea of its own country
or of a third State.
3. Hot pursuit is not deemed to have
begun unless the pursuing ship has satisfied itself by such practicable
means as may be available that the ship pursued or one of its boats or
other craft working as a team and using the ship pursued as a mother ship
are within the limits of the territorial sea, or as the case may be within
the contiguous zone. The pursuit may only be commenced after a visual or
auditory signal to stop has been given at a distance which enables it to
be seen or heard by the foreign ship.
4. The right of hot pursuit may be
exercised only by warships or military aircraft, or other ships or aircraft
on government service specially authorized to that effect.
5. Where hot pursuit is effected by
(a) The provisions of paragraph 1 to 3 of this article
shall apply mutatis mutandis;
6. The release of a ship arrested within
the jurisdiction of a State and escorted to a port of that State for the
purposes of an enquiry before the competent authorities may not be claimed
solely on the ground that the ship, in the course of its voyage, was escorted
across a portion of the high seas, if the circumstances rendered this necessary.
(b) The aircraft giving the order to stop must itself
actively pursue the ship until a ship or aircraft of the coastal State,
summoned by the aircraft, arrives to take over the pursuit, unless the
aircraft is itself able to arrest the ship. It does not suffice to justify
an arrest on the high seas that the ship was merely sighted by the aircraft
as an offender or suspected offender, if it was not both ordered to stop
and pursued by the aircraft itself or other aircraft or ships which continue
the pursuit without interruption.
7. Where a ship has been stopped or
arrested on the high seas in circumstances which do not justify the exercise
of the right of hot pursuit, it shall be compensated for any loss or damage
that may have been thereby sustained.
Every State shall draw up regulations
to prevent pollution of the seas by the discharge of oil from ships or
pipelines or resulting from the exploitation and exploration of the seabed
and its subsoil, taking account of existing treaty provisions on the subject.
1. Every State shall take measures
to prevent pollution of the seas from the dumping of radio-active waste,
taking into account any standards and regulations which may be formulated
by the competent international organizations.
2. All States shall co-operate with
the competent international organizations in taking measures for the prevention
of pollution of the seas or air space above, resulting from any activities
with radio-active materials or other harmful agents.
1. All States shall be entitled to
lay submarine cables and pipelines on the bed of the high seas.
2. Subject to its right to take reasonable
measures for the exploration of the continental shelf and the exploitation
of its natural resources, the coastal State may not impede the laying or
maintenance of such cables or pipelines.
3. When laying such cables or pipelines
the State in question shall pay due regard to cables or pipelines already
in position on the seabed. In particular, possibilities of repairing existing
cables or pipelines shall not be prejudiced.
Every State shall take the necessary
legislative measures to provide that the breaking or injury by a ship flying
its flag or by a person subject to its jurisdiction of a submarine cable
beneath the high seas done wilfully or through culpable negligence, in
such a manner as to be liable to interrupt or obstruct telegraphic or telephonic
communications, and similarly the breaking or injury of a submarine pipeline
or high-voltage power cable shall be a punishable offence. This provision
shall not apply to any break or injury caused by persons who acted merely
with the legitimate object of saving their lives or their ships, after
having taken all necessary precautions to avoid such break or injury.
Every State shall take the necessary
legislative measures to provide that, if persons subject to its jurisdiction
who are the owners of a cable or pipeline beneath the high seas, in laying
or repairing that cable or pipeline, cause a break in or injury to another
cable or pipeline, they shall bear the cost of the repairs.
Every State shall take the necessary
legislative measures to ensure that the owners of ships who can prove that
they have sacrificed an anchor, a net or any other fishing gear, in order
to avoid injuring a submarine cable or pipeline, shall be indemnified by
the owner of the cable or pipeline, provided that the owner of the ship
has taken all reasonable precautionary measures beforehand.
The provisions of this Convention
shall not affect conventions or other international agreements already
in force, as between States Parties to them.
This Convention shall, until 31 October
1958, be open for signature by all States Members of the United Nations
or of any of the specialized agencies, and by any other State invited by
the General Assembly of the United Nations to become a Party to the Convention.
This Convention is subject to ratification.
The instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the Secretary-General
of the United Nations.
This Convention shall be open for
accession by any States belonging to any of the categories mentioned in
article 31. The instruments of accession shall be deposited with the Secretary-General
of the United Nations.
1. This Convention shall come into
force on the thirtieth day following the date of deposit of the twenty-second
instrument of ratification or accession with the Secretary-General of the
2. For each State ratifying or acceding
to the Convention after the deposit of the twenty-second instrument of
ratification or accession, the Convention shall enter into force on the
thirtieth day after deposit by such State of its instrument of ratification
1. After the expiration of a period
of five years from the date on which this Convention shall enter into force,
a request for the revision of this Convention may be made at any time by
any Contracting Party by means of a notification in writing addressed to
the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
2. The General Assembly of the United
Nations shall decide upon the steps, if any, to be taken in respect of
The Secretary-General of the United
Nations shall inform all States Members of the United Nations and the other
States referred to in article 31:
(a) Of signatures to this Convention and of the deposit
of instruments of ratification or accession, in accordance with articles
31, 32 and 33;
(b) Of the date on which this Convention will come into
force, in accordance with article 34;
c) Of requests for revision in accordance with article
The original of this Convention, of
which the Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish texts are equally
authentic, shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United
Nations, who shall send certified copies thereof to all States referred
to in article 31.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF the undersigned Plenipotentiaries,
being duly authorized thereto by their respective Governments, have signed
DONE at Geneva, this twenty-ninth day of April one thousand
nine hundred and fifty-eight.
| *Abstract: (back)
Done at Geneva, on 29 April 1958
Entry into force: 30 September 1962
Text: United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 450,
the 1958 Law of the Sea Conventions were largely superceded by the 1982
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)
The four Law of the Sea Conventions and the Optional
Protocol of Signature were prepared and opened for signature by the
United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. The Conference
was convened pursuant to resolution 1105 (XI), adopted by the General Assembly
of the United Nations on 21 February 1957, and met at the European Office
of the United Nations at Geneva from 24 February to 27 April 1958. The
Conference also adopted the Final Act and nine resolutions
for the text of which, see UnitedNations, Treaty Series, vol. 450,
p. 11. For the travaux préparatoires and the proceedings of the
Conference, see Official Records of the United Nations Conference on
the Law of the Sea, vols. I to VII, United Nations publication, Sales
No.: 58.V.4, vols. I to VII.