Straight baselines


Historic Right
Straight baselines





The other basis for Canada’s claim of the NWP was the drawing of straight baselines around the Arctic Archipelago.


Straight baselines can be drawn by joining appropriate points along a deeply indented coastline or fringe of islands along the coast. This practice was first recognized by international law in 1951 and confirmed by Article 7 of UNCLOS.


Canada drew straight base lines around the Canadian Arctic archipelago in 1985, placing the NWP within Canada’ internal waters.


Learn more: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Baselines of the Territorial Sea



Fond de carte : Google Maps. Tracé établi selon les données de Donat Pharand, “The Arctic Waters and the Northwest Passage: A Final Revisit”, Ocean Development and International Law, 38:1, January 2007, p. 18.





Despite resting on two strong bases, Canada' claim over the Northwest Passage has not been recognized by the international community. In particular, the US has officially protested against both Canada’s historic claim and the drawing of straight baselines. The US position is that the NWP is an international strait, based on two elements:

- the geographical element (a strait is a natural passage that link two seas)

- and the functional element (a strait is a commonly used passage used by international navigation)




In the past, this conflict provoked two crises between the two countries:


- in 1969 and 1970, when an American supertanker, the SS Manhattan, navigated the Passage without asking permission from Canada


- in 1985, when the American ice breaker Polar Bear navigated the Passage, again without asking for permission from Canada


Read more:

Ross Coen, Breaking Ice for Arctic Oil: The Epic Voyage of the SS Manhattan through the Northwest Passage, University of Alaska Press, 2012