Malaysian Maritime Zones
Malaysian Maritime Zones
1982 Law of the Sea Convention

Malaysia ratified the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (“the Convention”) on 14 October 1996. The Convention came into force in Malaysia on 14 November 1996 and since then Malaysia has gradually been updating its laws in line with its treaty obligations which process is continuing.  As a state party to the Convention, Malaysia claims and applies the following maritime zones: internal waters, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone, the continental shelf and the high seas.

Malaysian Waters

Internal Waters are the sea areas on the landward side of the baselines whilst the sea areas comprising the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf lie on the seaward side of the baselines.  For the purposes of security and enforcement by the Malaysian Coast Guard, Malaysian waters would include the internal waters, territorial sea, continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone.


Baselines, as determined by the rules of the Convention, form the starting point defining the limits of each maritime zone for the exercise maritime jurisdiction and for delimitation of maritime boundaries between coastal States and these are enacted through the Baselines of Maritime Zones Act 2006. Baselines are defined as the low water line along the coast or reef marked on large scale charts or low tide elevation situated within the territorial sea. Where deemed necessary, the Act reserves the right to employ straight baselines instead of the low water line rule and also reserves for Malaysia the sovereign power to declare the outer limits or demarcation lines of the maritime zones.  A Ministerial certificate stating that any geographic location is situated within the maritime zones of Malaysia would constitute conclusive proof in any legal proceedings before the Malaysian courts to assert its jurisdiction.

While Malaysia has yet to formally establish its baselines, a work in progress, an earlier 1979 Map issued by the Malaysian Directorate of National Mapping that sets out the limits of the Malaysian territorial sea and continental shelf (on the principle of inferred baselines) remains the current official position for jurisdictional purposes.

Territorial Sea

The Territorial Sea Act 2012 sets out 12 nautical miles as the breadth of the territorial sea throughout Malaysia except in the case of Sabah and Sarawak where the territory for the exploitation or exploration of the territorial sea is limited to 3 nautical miles. 

Vessels have a right of innocent passage through the territorial sea but this right can be temporarily suspended in specific areas in the interests of national security.  Innocent passage means passing through the territorial sea without entering or proceeding from internal waters in an expeditious and continuous manner which is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of Malaysia. Vessels engaged in fishing, polluting, weapons practice, surveillance activities, loading or unloading of any commodity, currency or people smuggling in breach of Malaysia’s customs, fiscal and immigration lose the right to innocent passage.

Transit Passage through International Straits

The Straits of Malacca, even though lying within the territorial sea, being an international strait, is subject to special regime of transit passage set out in Article 38 of the Law of the Convention entitling freedom of navigation and over flight to all vessels and aircraft whether commercial or naval for unimpeded non suspendable transit passage through the Straits. 

Exclusive Economic Zone

The Exclusive Economic Act 1984 (‘EEZ’)sets out the exclusive economic zone as the area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea extending to two hundred nautical miles measured from the baselines where Malaysia has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources.  In this EEZ area Malaysia exercises sovereign rights for exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing natural resources, whether living or non living, of the sea bed and the subsoil and the superjacent waters. Also Malaysian jurisdiction is asserted over the establishment of artificial islands and installations, marine research and protection and preservation of the environment. 

As the EEZ overlaps with the Malaysian continental shelf areas, the EEZ Act applies equally to the continental shelf and the activities there including fishing rights.  Any prohibited act or omissions set out in the EEZ Act committed in the continental shelf or within 500 metres of any installation in the EEZ is deemed to have taken place in Malaysia and subject to criminal and civil jurisdiction of Malaysian courts.

Continental Shelf

The Continental Shelf is the natural prolongation of the land territory to the continental margin’s edge or 200 nautical miles from the coastal State’s baseline, whichever is greater. Malaysia has claimed continental shelf rights as early as 1966 through the Continental Shelf Act 1966 to exploit offshore oil and gas resources which Act has now been revised to adapt to the Law of the Sea Convention 1982.

With a recent amendment to this Act demarcating the Malaysian continental shelf area in accordance with Article 76 of the Convention, Malaysia hopes to extend sovereignty to the outer edge of the continental margin in line with Convention principles where coastal States may be allowed to exercise continental shelf rights up to 350 nautical miles from the baselines or up to 100 nautical miles from 2,500 metre isobath (the line connecting the depth of 2,500 metres).

Malaysian Fisheries Waters

Malaysia exercises sovereign and exclusive rights over fisheries in its internal waters, the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone of Malaysia.

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The information herein is for general guidance only, may have been superseded, circumstances may have changed and should not be relied upon for action. This does not in any way represent or replace professional legal advice which in each and every case must be obtained.

Sativale Mathew Arun
Malaysia's Maritime Lawyers
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