8

The US is claiming that the United States Armed Services are going to ensure passage in the Strait.

"We are starting a concept called Sentinel in which we will have a series of countries engaged to preserve the free and open passage of commerce in the Strait of Hormuz and in the Persian Gulf," US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood said at the Aspen Security Forum on Saturday.

To what degree is that even allowed under international law? Does any of the Strait fall under international waters?

9

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) set the convention that all countries may claim "territorial waters" out to a distance of 12 miles from their shoreline. Since the Strait of Hormuz is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, this means that there is no longer a corridor of "high seas" in the Strait (and there has not been for some time.)

Before and after UNCLOS maps of territorial waters near the Strait of Hormuz (Source: Heritage Foundation)

UNCLOS also recognizes the right to transit passage through straits such as the Strait of Hormuz (or, for that matter, the Strait of Gibraltar.) According to UNCLOS, such passages must be "for the purpose of continuous and expeditious transit of the strait between one part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone and another part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone." It is this right of passage that UNCLOS is supposed to guarantee, and that countries are not supposed to infringe upon.

Complicating matters, the United States is technically not a party to UNCLOS, but does recognize it as international convention. (Their primary objections at the time of the treaty were not over territorial waters but rather over deep-sea mineral exploration.) Moreover, Iran signed the treaty but never ratified it. Oman is a full party to the treaty, as is the UK.

7

Wikipedia has a map of the Strait of Hormuz.

Map of Strait of Hormuz

Notice that the Strait is between Iran and Oman. Look at the part of the Strait that says "shipping lane" in Oman's waters. Presumably that's where "Sentinel" will operate with Omani permission. Al Jazeera.

So while Iran doesn't recognize any part of the Strait of Hormuz as being international waters, this program can still operate legally so long as it has permission from Oman and it sticks to Omani waters. Outside the Strait, it might have to get permission from different countries, e.g. United Arab Emirates.

  • 1
    Look farther west. Significant portions of both shipping lanes are in Iranian territorial waters. – phoog Jul 21 '19 at 19:25
  • @phoog But that's outside the Strait of Hormuz. I would guess that if ships used to use those Persian Gulf shipping lanes in Iranian waters, they won't be now. – Brythan Jul 21 '19 at 20:15
  • I haven't been able to find a definite boundary between the gulf and the strait, but regardless it certainly does not seem like ships are avoiding Iranian territorial waters. – phoog Jul 21 '19 at 20:24
4

Does Iran recognize any of the water in the Strait of Hormuz as being International Water?

No. Nobody does.

To what degree is that even allowed under international law?

It depends on precisely what is meant by "engaged to preserve the free and open passage of commerce."

Does any of the Strait fall under international waters?

No.

But the free and open passage of commerce through the strait of Hormuz does not depend on any part of it being international waters; rather, it depends on the concept known in customary maritime law as innocent passage.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .