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U.S. Department of State

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Notice to Research Vessel Operators No. 70

Subject: Precise Use of Term "Hydrography"; Rules for Clearances.
Released by the Department of State, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, May 15, 1986.

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The evolution of ocean activities in the past few decades, accompanied by coastal state expansionism, has resulted in a host of legal regimes with differing rules for various activities. From this has arisen the need to be as precise as possible in the use of terms to ensure that the legal rules are properly applied.

A most pressing need at this time is to ensure the most precise use of the term hydrography, or hydrographic surveys, to ensure that the more restrictive legal regime for marine scientific research (MSR) in the EEZ, is not applied to hydrographic surveying in the EEZ. Prior to World War II the term "hydrography" was used in a very broad sense to refer to most studies of the ocean.

Under customary international law hydrography retains its status as a freedom of the seas within and beyond the EEZ. MSR, on the other hand, copies under the authority of the coastal nation within its EEZ when a coastal nation chooses to exercise such MSR jurisdiction. Imprecise use of the term "hydrography" or "hydrographic survey" as a synonym for oceanography, particularly physical oceanography, threatens to subject hydrography to the MSR legal regime in the EEZ.

There is no precise legal definition of "hydrography" or "hydrographic surveying", but these terms may be taken to mean:

a. Hydrography - The branch of applied science which deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of the navigable portion of the earth's surface and adjoining coastal areas, with special reference to their use for the purpose of navigation.

b. Survey, Hydrographic - A survey having for its principal purpose the determination of data relating to bodies of water. A hydrographic survey may consist of the determination of one or several of the following classes of data: depth of water, configuration and nature of the bottom; directions and force of currents; heights and times of tides and water stages; and location of fixed objects for survey and navigation purposes.

Hydrography is almost always undertaken by governments, because it is a critical element in interdependent world trade which is vital to all nations. Accordingly, it is important to avoid use of the term in its outdated sense to protect this very important modern activity.

Note: Research operators are cautioned that some coastal nations may claim jurisdiction over hydrography in their EEZ'S. It is important to consult with the R/V Clearance Officer before conducting hydrography in a foreign EEZ to ensure non-interference with your vessel operations.

Rules for Research Vessel Clearances

The Department of State will only submit a clearance application to a foreign government that uses the term "hydrography" clearly and unambiguously. When the term is used imprecisely but the meaning is clear, the term will be changed before the clearance request is submitted to the foreign government. For example, if the context of the request indicates that physical oceanography is meant, the term will be changed to "physical oceanography". If you must use "surveys" in other than a true hydrographic sense, spell out the meaning clearly in the scientific sense.

Note: Operations involving only properly defined hydrography do not require notification of or approval from the coastal state, but please check with the Department of State first.

Cruise Reports and Other Uses

Reports of research results must also use the terms precisely. Reports which use "hydrography" when the real meaning is "oceanography" will be returned for correction, resulting in delayed transmission to the foreign government and possible delays in later clearance requests.

In this age of multiple ocean legal regimes, the American marine science community is cautioned to be as precise as possible in the use of terms in all writings and discussions, not just in clearance requests and cruise reports.

[end of document]

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