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mare clausum


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An old term used in connection with the claim by certain maritime nations to exclusive ownership of areas of open sea or ocean. Spain, in the 15th and 16th centuries, claimed dominion of whole oceans; Britain, in the 17th century, similarly claimed dominion of all the Narrow Seas surrounding her. The obvious difficulties of such a doctrine, particularly for ships passing through these waters and for those involved in fisheries etc., led to attempts to modify these outrageous claims among the nations concerned.

In 1609 Grotius wrote his Mare Liberum, or ‘free sea’, in which he advocated the unrestricted right of all ships to use all waters and particularly the right of Dutch fisherman to catch fish in waters off the English coast. His argument was answered in 1631 by an English jurist, John Selden (1584–1654), who wrote Mare Clausum, which upheld the doctrine of that waters contiguous to the coastline of a country should be solely under the dominion of that country. Such arguments led eventually to the introduction of territorial waters.

See also exclusive economic zone; united nations conference on the law of the sea.

See also exclusive economic zone; united nations conference on the law of the sea.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700).


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