Is there a term for countries with access to the sea but not to open international waters?

I'm thinking of Cuba, Germany, Italy, North Korea, etc. that are surrounded by exclusive economic zones of other countries.

  • 4
    The answer could easily be "no", but what evidence are you looking for? Here's a map that relies on similarly awkward wording.
    – Brian Z
    Commented May 17 at 0:37
  • I'm looking for a specific term for that idea that's more or less used regularly either on official or academic documents. Precisely to not use an awkward wording. Commented May 17 at 0:47
  • 8
    @Ventolinmono Yeah, sorry, about the other dudes. I am not all that sure why you'd need such a term tho. First, Germany will have an EEZ, it just is bounded by other folks' EEZs. Second, an EEZ doesn't really impede access, so in what way would it lock someone in? What is the concept/issue you are trying to find a term for? BTW, though it could use some clarity, I don't think PeteW is trying to be snarky on you, I think he's also expressing annoyance, like me, that you are getting downvoted as a newcomer. Which we specifically are supposed to treat more nicely. Welcome aboard. Commented May 17 at 6:28

5 Answers 5


The term is still "Landlocked". Kazakhstan has access to the Caspian Sea, but is landlocked, since that doesn't connect it to ocean shipping.

The kind of phenomenon you're describing doesn't really exist. Exclusive economic zones cannot cut a country off: they are exclusive for fishing and drilling, and specifically not for restricting passage.

The countries you're listing are not locked off from global maritime trade in any way.

  • 15
    Exactly. Hamburg, Germany is one of the biggest international harbours of Europe. Calling Germany "Sea locked" is ridiculous and not covered by international law AFAIK. Commented May 17 at 6:40
  • Ok, maybe not EEZ but what about territorial waters that cut off other countries for access to the high seas? Commented May 18 at 2:50
  • 9
    @Ventolinmono Territorial waters can't do that - according to UNCLOS, ships have the right of innocent passage through others' territorial waters.
    – Therac
    Commented May 18 at 4:24
  • 4
    @Therac and countries are of course free to violate the UNCLOS. But then again they can also just go ahead and attack a country's fleet even if it does have direct access to international waters (see... every war in history). Commented May 18 at 13:12

according to Wikipedia the "innocent passage" means certain restrictions, so it has according to law it's implications. If countries follow the law of the sea it means vessels have to behave different than if they were in their own waters for example refraining from military activities.

There are papers that discuss the implications of passing thought someone else's straights (to get to the high seas). One such paper uses the term "port-locked" for such situations (as an extension of landlocked), although they put it in quotes to suggest it doesn't have wide acceptance, at least as a term.

Another, softer extension of this (landlocked) concept is the term "relatively landlocked", used in The Geography of Transport Systems, (6th ed., pp. 147-148). It's not limited to having to pass through straights or territorial waters of some other countries in absolute (geographical constraint) terms, but in relative (economic) terms:

being landlocked can be a relative concept since a coastal country could be considered relatively landlocked if its port system is insufficient to handle its maritime trade or ifs importers or exporter are using a port in a third country.

(Italics in original.)

Some US Navy officials have used this latter term ("relatively landlocked") to refer to first kind of situation though, e.g. to Iraq (having to pass through the Strait of Hormuz). An older USNI publication somewhat similarly uses this term in a broader context "relatively landlocked areas like Russia, China, Germany, and the Balkan States". So these [tentative] terms don't have have broadly accepted definitions, but vary with the author/speaker.

  • 1
    Bosnia would be the most notorious example, especially after Croatia has finished building a bridge that bypasses their territory and goes over their only maritime access lane. Commented May 18 at 17:01
  • 1
    Thank you. I was looking for answers like this. For me it is obvious that such a "feature" has geopolitical and economic implications so it must be a real thing even if it's not widely recognized. Commented May 18 at 19:15

The area of international waters to which the named countries do not have direct access is called the high seas.1

The high seas refers to the ocean water column that lies beyond the boundaries of any one country, also known as areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ).

High seas image


I could find no specific term to classify those countries with no direct access to the high seas. I suppose "non-high seas countries" might suffice.

The term "landlocked" refers to those countries surrounded by land. Essentially, those with no coastal waters.


  1. (of a country or other polity, or a geographical region) Completely surrounded by land and thus lacking a marine coastline; having no territory directly connected to or bordering the ocean.

The term "sea-locked" is generally used to refer to those countries surrounded by water.

1 Sometimes also call the open ocean.

  • 1
    Maybe I should change sea-locked in the title of my question to "countries without direct access to the high seas"? Commented May 18 at 2:52
  • 4
    "those countries surrounded by water" – also called "islands". Commented May 18 at 10:11
  • @Ventolinmono - If you feel that "high seas" better fits the title, change it.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented May 18 at 10:38
  • @PaŭloEbermann - Hispaniola is an island with two countries, neither country is surrounded by water; therefore, neither Haiti nor the Dominican Republic could be considered "sea-locked countries".
    – Rick Smith
    Commented May 18 at 10:44

As you can see from the many comments and answers, your first problem lies with the exact definition, and that's why a single word may be ambiguous.

The are several maritime zones/boundaries, illustrated in this schematic from Wikipedia:

(note that it is actually slightly incorrect: while the outer limit of the EEZ is indeed at 200 nm from the baseline, the EEZ does not include the territorial waters).

There are no restrictions in transiting through an EEZ. The only restrictions there apply to exploitation of the economic resources in that EEZ, e.g. fishing or drilling.

The areas where there may be restrictions are territorial waters, but those end at 12 nautical miles from the baseline. Anything beyond that is in international waters, and anybody can transit there as much as they want.

A few countries claim territorial waters extending further than the internationally-agreed 12 nm, but I’m not sure any of those restrict the rights of their neighbours.

Even in territorial waters, there is innocent passage, and for straits, transit passage.

Then there are definitions about “the high seas” (usually defined as anything beyond EEZs) and “the open ocean” (often defined as the contiguous part of the international waters or high seas which does not require going through a straight controlled by one or more countries, i.e. most of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, but not the Black Sea, the Persian Gulf, and possibly not the Mediterranean).

Transit through many straits and some strategic canals like Suez or Panama are very open, but there’s still the risk that bordering/controlling countries impose restrictions, and some straits (e.g. the Turkish Straits) have specific rules. They mostly have an impact on military vessels, but in extreme cases other types of vessels may be blocked, even if it would be illegal per international law.

So you could have the following cases:

  • No coast at all, aka landlocked
  • A little bit of coast, but no direct access to international waters (need to go through other countries’ territorial waters), like Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Access to international waters, but need to go through a strait or canal to get to the open ocean (e.g. countries bordering the Black Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Baltic Sea, or the Mediterranean). But the regimes for those straits and canals and the risk of any blockade vary quite a bit.
  • Direct access to the open seas

From your list, Cuba, Germany and North Korea definitely have direct access to the open ocean. Only Italy is somewhat restricted as they need to go through either the Gibraltar Strait or the Suez Canal to get to the open ocean, but I don’t foresee anyone blocking the Gibraltar Strait anytime soon (especially not Spain vis-a-vis Italy).

  • This is a good answer because it considers that conditions change so it may not be a big issue now, or not for most countries but probably has caused issues before and will cause issues in the future whatever their impact is. Commented May 19 at 1:02

I think the term you're looking for is 'enclave' or 'exclave':

  • enclave: A region of one country that is completely surrounded by another country
  • exclave: A region of one country that is cut off from the the main territory of that country

The main difference between the two is whether a single nation controls the area around the region or multiple nations control different parts of that area. There's no strict equivalent to the term 'landlocked' since landlocked refers to a geological feature — no direct access to seas or ports — while (ex/en)claves are purely political features.

  • 1
    I don't think anyone would consider Cuba, Germany, Italy, and North Korea (the examples given) to be either enclaves or exclaves.
    – R.M.
    Commented May 17 at 21:43
  • 1
    @R.M.: Germany, Italy, and North Korea have direct access to international waters. Cuba would be considered an enclave if it were entirely enclosed by US territorial waters, but US territorial waters only extend 12 nautical miles from the shore (as opposed to the US exclusive Economic Zone which extends 200 nautical miles). EEZs don't count, they mainly indicate control of resources like fishing, mining, and oil drilling, and don't impact ship transit. Commented May 17 at 21:53
  • 2
    This is absolutely not an en/ex-clave
    – Brondahl
    Commented May 18 at 17:47
  • This has little to do with the question. French Guiana is an exclave of France, but has access to the high seas. Ukraine is not an exclave, but doesn't have access to the high seas except through the Turkish Straits. The two are independent. Commented May 21 at 0:46

You must log in to answer this question.

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