maritime boundaries between Latvia and Estonia

On 12 July 1996, Estonia and Latvia also concluded a treaty on the maritime delimitation in Gulf of Riga, the Strait of Irbe and the Baltic Sea. The delimitation line was influenced by the specific geographical configuration of the costs and historical considerations. The existence of a historic boundary between Estonia and Latvia which was established during the 1920’s was also taken into account.
The boundary begins between adjacent coasts, but quickly turns into a situation of opposite coasts inside the Gulf. Outside the Gulf, the coasts once again become adjacent. Thus, the delimitation line is a combination of methods and the equidistance line is applied inside the Gulf of Riga, except for a short segment at its entrance.

In the Baltic Sea, there are some agreements between adjacent States which make use of the perpendicular line. For example, in the 1996 agreement between Estonia and Latvia, the perpendicular line was applied outside the Gulf of Riga. Inside the Gulf, a historical consideration prevailed and the delimitation line is a negotiated one.

In the 1996 agreement between the republic of Estonia and the republic of Latvia the islands were taken into account in the delimitation process. Many islands are present in the area to be delimited and all of them belong to Estonia. Only the Ruhnu Island, which is bigger and populated, was granted a 12 nautical mile territorial sea. Also, on the Estonian side, the base points used were all islands, whereas on the Latvian side the mainland served this purpose In the Baltic Sea, the interests of third States was taken into account in the maritime delimitation agreement and trilateral agreements (Estonia-Latvia-Sweden). The Baltic States do not consider themselves as the successors of the former Soviet Union, but as the successors to the pre-World War II States bearing the same names. As a consequence, these States have sought to reinvigorate the boundary treaties that were concluded during the Soviet period. This political factor played a role in maritime delimitation process involving these three States.

The agreement between Estonia and Latvia creates a maritime boundary where no such boundary existed before, at least not during the Soviet era. It is true that both countries had already agreed on a boundary prior to World War 2 but at that time these countries only claimed a 3-mile territorial sea and, therefore, the practical impact of this existing boundary on the present day situation should not be over-estimated.
At the centre of the problem lay the fishing activities in the Gulf of Riga, which escalated during the spring of 1995. With many ups and downs the parties finally arrived at the conclusion of the present agreement. From a delimitation point of view two issues deserve special attention. First, was the question of whether the Gulf of Riga had to be considered as an historic bay or not.
Secondly, was the rather difficult issue of the exact weight to be attributed to the island of Ruhnu, belonging to Estonia but located closer to the Latvian than the Estonian coast in the Gulf of Riga. As it turned out, each party proved to have a quite different position on these issues. Both elements will be addressed in tum. The historic bay concept, which can be traced back to Imperial Russian writings and was later taken over by the Soviet jurists, found its ultimate exposition in a 1947 governmental proclamation.

This claim was sustained by Soviet writers until the eve of the disintegration of the former Soviet Union. to This particular claim has, moreover, to be related to the establishment by the Soviet Council of Ministers of a list of geographic coordinates in 1985 establishing the Soviet baseline in the Baltic Sea, which suggested that the Gulf of Riga had to be considered to form part of Soviet internal waters since it totally enclosed this area by a system of straight baselines. The fundamental question therefore arose whether both parties were to continue this practice. An essential element in such a juridical construction appears to be the consent of all the parties involved. And even though Latvia definitely saw some merit in this · particular approach, this line of thought was abandoned at an early stage because of fundamental Estonian objections. Estonia feared creating a precedent which the Russian Federation would be only too willing to apply to the disputed Narva River area. ·
Also on the question of Ruhnu island, both parties proved not to be on the same wavelength. Estonia had incorporated this island into its system of straight baselines, as established in 1993, 1s apparently implying that full weight had to be given to Ruhnu island. Latvia, on the other hand, stressing the fact that the inclusion of Ruhnu island in the system of straight baselines inside the Gulf of Riga is the main reason why this system does not follow the general direction of
the coast, and as a consequence should be considered as clearly at variance with present day international law, took the position that the influence of this island on the delimitation should be substantially downgraded. The matter was further complicated by the actual location of the fishing grounds in the vicinity of this island. These had always been open to the fishermen of both countries, during the Soviet era as well as during the .. inter-war period. The fact that it was Latvia which relied most heavily on , these fishery resources only · further complicated the matter. The problem was finally solved by enclaving Ruhnu island by means of a 12 n.m. zone. The fishery question, on the other hand, was completely dissociated from the boundary agreement. Outside the Gulf of Riga, the delimitation is based on the construction of a line perpendicular to the eastern closing line of the Gulf of Riga. This line will continue to a point to be agreed upon with Sweden by means of a trilateral agreement.

The Estonian–Latvian maritime border dispute. Source: Triin Laur and Regio Ltd. 
The delimitation of Estonian space. Source: Triin Laur and Regio Ltd. 

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