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What about artificial islands?

Home Forums Research Law and Politics What about artificial islands?

This topic contains 88 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of  Anonymous 6 years, 2 months ago.

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    I have yet to take an idea over to the engineering forum concerning this, but what if an artificial island were constructed on the high seas with concrete pylons holding it firmly in one geographic area. I have read through the politics section of the online book and found that it never talks about the rights of artificial islands that are on the high seas. It clearly states rules about flags and flagless ships, but an island is clearly not a ship.

    If such an island were created for the purpose of creating a sustainable, diplomatic (new) state. What legal isssues would arise? If a group of people just decided to fund such a project and plop it out in the ocean, flying their new country’s flag, what would this place be viewed as and how could international maritime laws affect it? Could any country just go and claim it as if it were another undiscovered island?

    Profile photo of i_is_j_smith

    The defination of “high seas” or “international waters” tends to be any waters outside of national jurisdiction. Once you build a large enough floating seastead, anchor it to a specific location, and claim it as a new nation you are no longer floating on the “high seas”…you now have your own 12nm “territorial waters” and 200nm EEZ.

    Profile photo of DM8954

    Well, except that many current laws (ie. “Law of the Sea”) don’t recognize artificial islands as having any impact on maritime boundaries.

    I don’t know whether this is to protect thier power and interests or simply because of the practical problem that artificial structures can be moved or destroyed (either on purpose or by accident) much faster that the time it would take to grant soveregnty and do all the paperwork. (change the maps, new laws, shipping lane changes, etc.)

    You can’t move Hawaii and it would be extremely difficult to destroy completely but, no matter how large, a seastead can sink or break free from its moorings in a matter of hours if the ‘right’ things go wrong. I can see the practical arguments for such rules, really. Even if everyone on Earth agreed that a particular seastead should become a soverign nation, it would take years to make all the practical changes necessary to make it official, only to be undone in an instant if the unthinkable happens.

    Now, I don’t see a reason why there couldn’t be a “nomadic” nation. Even if you never intend to move anywhere, the lack of land ownership might not prevent the formation of a new nation, technically speaking. Whether wandering around in ships and mobile seasteads or on a ‘reservation’ (completely stationary seastead), you’d definitely be more independant than the Native Americans or other nomadic and/or aboriginal peoples areound the world. In the US and Canada, “indians” have some amount of autonomy granted to them by the current governments that claim ownership of the land but they’re still under their jurisdiction. These rights and benefits are graciously ‘granted’ to them, not automatically given, and could technically be revoked.

    It could be a similar situation on a seastead in international waters except that no single nation could claim any rights over you. You can’t claim soverignty over the high seas but you can live there in perpetuity while receiving the natural benefits, advantages, and dangers of such.

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    I guess the question is how fixed structures are treated. It might be a stretch to call them artificial islands, but fixed oil platforms or compliant towers are most definitely firmly planted in one location.

    If that doesn’t help I guess the next step is actually building up a real island with rock or dirt from the sea floor. Which is probably way too expensive for anyone, in international waters. There was an attempt (near Tonga?) at this that failed. Perhaps because of proximity to existing nations.

    Profile photo of OCEANOPOLIS

    Building a real island, as u mentioned, with rock, dirt and sand from the sea floor might be much cheaper than any seastead, IF it is done in a shallow area (10-20 feet of water). But, (assuming that area is in international waters) that would mean “claiming” part of the high seas, which under UNCLOS is ilegal,…


    Invalidity of claims of sovereignty over the high seas

    No State may validly purport to subject any part of the high seas to its sovereignty.


    Legal status of the Area and its resources

    1. No State shall claim or exercise sovereignty or sovereign rights over any part of the Area or its resources, nor shall any State or natural or juridical person appropriate any part thereof. No such claim or exercise of sovereignty or sovereign rights nor such appropriation shall be recognized.

    So, in many terms, UNCLOS has the answer to Mr. Awesome original question regarding the statue of artificial islands. Which unfortunately is nay.

    That is way I am a big “fan” of floating artificial islands concept because will eliminate all this UnCLOS ,…BS. And, since floating artificial islands can be regarded as ships, UNCLOS provisions are very beneficial for such venture.

    Subject to this Convention, ships of all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea.

    1. Passage means navigation through the territorial sea for the purpose of:

    (a) traversing that sea without entering internal waters or calling at a roadstead or port facility outside internal waters; or

    (b) proceeding to or from internal waters or a call at such roadstead or port facility.

    2. Passage shall be continuous and expeditious. However, passage includes stopping and anchoring, but only in so far as the same are incidental to ordinary navigation or are rendered necessary by force majeure or distress or for the purpose of rendering assistance to persons, ships or aircraft in danger or distress.

    1. Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.

    2. Passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in any of the following activities:

    (a) any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the coastal State, or in any other manner in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations;

    (b) any exercise or practice with weapons of any kind;

    (c) any act aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defence or security of the coastal State;

    (d) any act of propaganda aimed at affecting the defence or security of the coastal State;

    (e) the launching, landing or taking on board of any aircraft;

    (f) the launching, landing or taking on board of any military device;

    (g) the loading or unloading of any commodity, currency or person contrary to the customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations of the coastal State;

    (h) any act of wilful and serious pollution contrary to this Convention;

    (i) any fishing activities;

    (j) the carrying out of research or survey activities;

    (k) any act aimed at interfering with any systems of communication or any other facilities or installations of the coastal State;

    (l) any other activity not having a direct bearing on passage.


    Charges which may be levied upon foreign ships

    1. No charge may be levied upon foreign ships by reason only of their passage through the territorial sea.

    2. Charges may be levied upon a foreign ship passing through the territorial sea as payment only for specific services rendered to the ship. These charges shall be levied without discrimination.


    Civil jurisdiction in relation to foreign ships

    1. The coastal State should not stop or divert a foreign ship passing through the territorial sea for the purpose of exercising civil jurisdiction in relation to a person on board the ship.

    2. The coastal State may not levy execution against or arrest the ship for the purpose of any civil proceedings, save only in respect of obligations or liabilities assumed or incurred by the ship itself in the course or for the purpose of its voyage through the waters of the coastal State.

    3. Paragraph 2 is without prejudice to the right of the coastal State, in accordance with its laws, to levy execution against or to arrest, for the purpose of any civil proceedings, a foreign ship lying in the territorial sea, or passing through the territorial sea after leaving internal waters.


    Meaning of innocent passage


    Meaning of passage


    Right of innocent passage



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    Apparently they shipped sand in barges from Australia. This is at least 1500 nautical miles and does not make sense to me. It must be significantly cheaper to dredge up sand from the seabed nearby.

    With some kind of conveyor belt or pipeline system you could move the sand to where you want it without having ships going back and forth. You would be looking at a budget largely dictated by the energy consumed in moving the sand. Buy an old russian nuclear icebreaker and refit with dredging gear and you are in business.

    Minerva is only 255nm from Tonga though. You should perhaps be at least 400nm from the nearest neghbor (200+200nm). But the Tongan claim that Minerva is their fishing grounds sound rather shaky to me. I bet you could successfully defend this micronation from the Tongan armed forces if you really wanted to. But finding a more isolated seamount or reef would of course be better.

    Presumably it must be possible for newly created islands to get recognised by other nations and/or UNCLOS. The earth itself creates new islands occasionally, by volcanic eruptions for instance.

    Profile photo of OCEANOPOLIS

    Shipping sand from afar doesnt make to much sense when, as u said, filling material can be used from nearby shallows (like they do in Belize to fill the cayos).

    It is indeed strange how Tonga could have claimed Minerva reef as their fishing grounds, and on what legal base, since outside their EEZ,….It seems to me that the Minerva guys just chickened out, when they should have called the Tongan’s bluff. This is Tonga’s military (ha!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonga_Defence_Services. And keep in mind that in 1972 when Minerva Republic was declared they didnt even have the “Navy”, I mean the “fleet” of 3 (three) Pacific class patrol boats. These where donated to them 12 years later by the Australian Navy,….

    Profile photo of JLMadrigal

    According to traditional usage, “high seas” do not include islands above high tide:


    So as long as a new nation is outside of the jurisdiction of another’s EEZ, by definition it can have its own EEZ. I haven’t found anything in UNCLOS that prohibits anyone from establishing a fixed nation that is above high tide.


    Profile photo of OCEANOPOLIS

    What do you mean by “a fixed nation that is above high tide”? What I get is a structure like an oil rig, or spar that is secure to the seabed, in international waters. If this is what you meant, than it can’t have territorial waters or EEZ.


    Invalidity of claims of sovereignty over the high seas

    No State may validly purport to subject any part of the high seas to its sovereignty.

    8. Artificial islands, installations and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf.

    The only thing that a new nation, fixed on the seabed might get away with, could be a 500 meters safety zone:

    5. The breadth of the safety zones shall be determined by the coastal State, taking into account applicable international standards. Such zones shall be designed to ensure that they are reasonably related to the nature and function of the artificial islands, installations or structures, and shall not exceed a distance of 500 metres around them, measured from each point of their outer edge, except as authorized by generally accepted international standards or as recommended by the competent international organization. Due notice shall be given of the extent of safety zones.

    But even this is shaky because article 5 refers to artificial islands INSIDE a nation’s EEZ,….so,…

    Floating is the key word my friends,..for a lot less headaches.

    Profile photo of JLMadrigal

    So that leaves only two paths to autonomy:

    1) Aquire a freezone from an existing state (which may not fall under the mission of TSI). http://www.geocities.com/johnfkosanke/freenationupdate4.htm

    2) Get some underwriters to insure an unflagged fleet of structures and vessels that may or may not qualify for a UNCLOS safety zone. The Autonomous Freezone of Aquia (http://wiki.seasteading.org/index.php/Constitution_of_the_Autonomous_Freezone_of_Aquia) could serve as the foundation for this new autonomous community.


    Profile photo of DM8954

    Dredging shallows for material to build an island works fine where there is plenty of shallow ground to work with. If you’ve got a small seamount or reef in the middle of otherwise deep water, you’d basically be scooping material off the sides and putting it on top. You’re reshaping, rather than adding new material, which limits how large you could grow the island and you have less control over the properties of the materials being used.

    It might actually have been cheaper to just ship the sand. Much of Australia is sparsely populated desert. Using bulldozers and dump trucks to load up a few barges might have been easier and definitely would have been more predictable (materials engineering-wise) than a dredging opperation. I don’t know how much environmental factors figured into the plan (probably not much backin 1971) but dredging would also destroy a whole lot of reef, whereas dumping sand would only damage the area beign covered.

    The 500 meter safety zone is a good find. A seastead that is primarily residential might not qualify for the maximum safety zone but whatever it does qualify for can be doubled by keeping the right distance from the next ‘stead to maximize coverage.

    Profile photo of OCEANOPOLIS

    I think that no. 2) is the best option. Regarding insurance, Lloyd’s of London is the best. But they won’t underwrite an unfllagged vessel. In order to insure a vessel you must show proof of documentation or registration. (U.S and international law). I would worry about insurance last.

    Personally, after researching the subject of the status of arificial islands on the high seas for awhile, and assuming that the funding for such project is secured, I have have come to the following conclusions:

    1. Design and built a seagoing modular floating structure, of steel reeinforced concrete, capabale of sustaining category 5 hurricane force winds and sea state code 9 waves (over 14′ high waves).
    2. Concurrent to the construction process, lay down the social, political and economical infrastructure of the project. With other words, form a Micronation – virtual for now.
    3. When point 1. and 2. are finalized, launch the structure and anchor outside the 12 nm territorial waters of any nation.
    4. Immediately declare statehod by petitioning the United Nations, according to international law under the Montevideo Convention

    Article 1

    The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications:

    • (a) a permanent population;
    • (b) a defined territory;
    • (c) government; and
    • (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

    Article 3

    The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states. Even before recognition the state has the right to defend its integrity and independence, to provide for its conservation and prosperity, and consequently to organize itself as it sees fit, to legislate upon its interests, administer its services, and to define the jurisdiction and competence of its courts.
    The exercise of these rights has no other limitation than the exercise of the rights of other states according to international law.

    5. Since The State cannot have the 12 nm territorial waters or EEZ, establish a 5 nautical miles safety zone around The State’s coastline. On entering this Zone, all vessel proposing to enter The State ports will be required to provide information such as ship identity, crew, cargo, location, course and speed.

    Profile photo of i_is_j_smith

    In RE to Minerva, it would certainly have been okay had the founder not just left it there unguarded and unpopulated. All it took was one boatload of Tongans to land on it, knock over it’s flag, kick some sand around, and it was done for. The ocean did the rest.

    I support Ocean’s 5-part plan 100%. The only things I would alter would be: in step 4 make sure you are outside any existing nations EEZ and not just their 12nm territorial border, and in step 5 claim a 12nm territorial water like any other nation but only claim a 50nm EEZ.

    You build it, launch it, populate it, and then declare a new nation in any and all media outlets possible.

    Profile photo of JLMadrigal

    The need for security for an unflagged vessel (or a vessel that is flagged under an unrecognized entity) cannot be overestimated. Lloyds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lloyd's_of_London) started out as a simple coffeehouse where sailors, merchants, and shipowners got together, exchanged information, and made deals.

    TSI or another sympathetic party could set up a similar but cyber-based club of underwriters for seasteading ventures. They would ensure that such ventures be kept within realistic legal and safety guidelines. A framework for this club could be based entirely or in part on Las Portadas (http://www.geocities.com/johnfkosanke/lasportadas.htm).


    Profile photo of wohl1917

    the largest Safety Zone you could probably get away with is the old, original international standard of 3nm, which was the max range of the guns at the time… My point is that its useless to make claims you can’t enforce: like Qaddafi’s ‘Line of Death’ out the the middle of the Mediterranean. The 6th Fleet crossed it and puttered around till he launched a couple of SU-22s (which we promptly shot down).

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