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River Navigation: Navigation In Internal Waters

Last summer escaping from the heat wave that struck our beloved islands I chartered a barge in French Burgundy and I realise how nice and different is sailing in the sea and cruising in a river. The first thing is that the speed – always quite slow motion – is not measured by knots (but km/h), then the lock manoeuvres, the silence – jet skis are forbidden in most parts – and the wheel which you had to spin constantly as if you were in a gale because the motor was ahead. The marks and signals were also very characteristic, mostly in the bridges.

Regarding legislation applicable to navigation of vessels, barges and boats sailing in rivers we must first take a look at the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ( the Law of the Sea Convention) that is, the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) 1982. According to art. 8  we can conclude rivers to be considered as internal waters, as these are defined in art 8 as those waters on the landward side of the baseline of a nation’s territorial waters, except in archipelagic states, including waterways such as rivers and canals, and sometimes the water within small bays.

The jurisdiction on inland waters follows sovereignty of the state of the mainland, also called here the coastal state who has the right to regulate the use, navigation and conditions (as for example in Spain competences on internal waters are expressly reserved to Spanish jurisdiction in Real Decreto Legislativo 2/2011, de 5 de septiembre Texto Refundido de la Ley de Puertos del Estado y de la Marina Mercante (span. State Ports and Merchant Maritime Law   Law). In principle there is no right to innocent passage which is the key difference between internal waters and territorial waters as for example the “archipelagic waters are treated as internal waters with the exception that innocent passage must be allowed. When a foreign vessel is authorized to enter inland waters, it is subject to the laws of the coastal State, except for the labor situation of the crew of the ship subject to the law of the flag State.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the legislation regarding international waterways has a long and old story. In that sense it is important to mention the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (CCNR) created in 1815 after Vienna Congress and considered to be the very first international cooperation organisation in History, having as principal objectives the regulation and safety of the navigation in the Rhine within the different coastal states.

Carlos Espinosa

Solicitor & Tax Advisor

+34 627 413 201 – carlos.espinosa@iurisnautic.com