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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research


When is an 'Island' Not an 'Island' in International Law? The Riddle of Dinkum Sands in the case of US v. Alaska

Author: Clive Symmons


When is an 'Island' Not an 'Island' in International Law? The Riddle of Dinkum Sands in the case of US v. Alaska - image

This Briefing deals with the problem of defining an 'island' in international law arising from the United States Supreme Court case of US v. Alaska concerning the status of a small formation in the Beaufort Sea known as 'Dinkum Sands'. Dispute between Federal and State officials centred on the meaning of "above water at high tide" (part of the definition of an island under Article 10 of the 1958 United Nations Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone) as applied to an offshore feature which itself goes up and down. The debate also addressed other issues concerning islands, such as the relevant tidal datum, the meaning of the term "land" and the possible necessity for locational permanence.

A central notion in the case was whether there is such a phenomenon in international law as a 'seasonal' or 'occasional' island.

Although this was not international litigation, it did directly involve international legal considerations. It is suggested, therefore, that the case has future importance for other insular disputes throughout the world as, to date, such issues concerning the law of the sea have never been judicially determined in any international tribunal.

Maritime Briefings (Vol. 2 no. 6)
North America
This article is available as a free download.



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