1958 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea
Geneva, 29 April 1958
U.N.T.S. No. 6465, vol. 450, pp. 82-103
CONVENTION ON THE HIGH SEAS
DONE AT GENEVA, ON 29 APRIL 1958
ENTRY INTO FORCE: 30 September 1962
The States Parties to this Convention,
Desiring to codify the rules of international law relating to the high
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
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
(1) Freedom of navigation;
(2) Freedom of fishing;
(3) Freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines;
(4) Freedom to fly over the high seas.
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.
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, accord:
(a) To the State having no sea-coast, on a basis of reciprocity, free
transit through their territory; and
(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.
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.
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
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
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 flag State.
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;
(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.
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.
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
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
(a) To render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being
(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.
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.
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 acts:
(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;
(b) Against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the
jurisdiction of any State;
(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 or aircraft;
(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
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
(a) That the ship is engaged in piracy; or
(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.
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.
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 sustained.
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 contiguous 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 established.
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 a*er 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 an aircraft:
(a) The provisions of paragraph 1 to 3 of this article shall apply
(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.
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.
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
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
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
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
The provisions of this Convention shall not affect conventions or other
international agreements already in force, as between States Parties to
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 United Nations.
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 or accession.
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
2. The General Assembly of the United Nations shall decide upon the steps,
if any, to be taken in respect of such request.
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 35.
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 this Convention.
DONE at Geneva, this twenty-ninth day of April one thousand nine hundred