The author of the following DefenceSynergia (DS) opinion piece covering the United Kingdom Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) post Brexit is a founder member of DS. In an earlier life, David Graham was an officer in the Royal Navy who was involved in three Cod Wars and served in three RN Island Class OPVs. Subsequently, he has gained over twenty years of EEZ surveillance experience operating in West and Southern Africa, the South Atlantic, the Far East and the Middle East.


At the time of writing in mid-February 2020, it appears that Her Majesty’s Government [HMG] have no plans to alter the status quo, that being that the policing and surveillance of the United Kingdom’s EEZ shall remain the purview of the Royal Navy and the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency [fisheries only as far as the latter is concerned]. The stated position of HMG is that as a sovereign coastal state, the UK will not relinquish control over its fisheries waters to any third party, a matter which is going to feature as one of importance in the coming trade negotiations with the European Union [EU].


Many of those with knowledge of the task, presently conducted by the Royal Navy, The Scottish Fisheries Protection Service and perhaps by the new maritime patrol aircraft being acquired by the Royal Air Force, believe that, in these financially straitened times it would strain the resources of both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, and that these would be better deployed on other more pressing duties. This paper will support this view and examine a number of other resources which could carry out the task in an efficient and cost-effective manner.


In addition to fisheries patrols to ensure compliance with the regulations, the tasks will include monitoring and prevention of illegal immigration into the United Kingdom, drug interdiction, prevention of pollution at sea, the monitoring of “ghost vessels” and anti-terrorism in its widest sense and compliance with customs, sanitary and fiscal regulations within UK territorial seas and contiguous zones.


The international agreement which governs extent of territorial seas, contiguous zones and Exclusive Economic Zones [EEZ] is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS] that resulted from the third United Nations conference on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS III], which took place between 1973 and 1982. It was signed on 10 December 1982 and ratified on receipt of the appropriate number of signatories on 16 November 1994.


Part II of the convention defines the limits of the territorial sea and contiguous zone. This document will limit itself to defining these areas, and to the extent of an EEZ and the responsibilities that go with it. Thus Article 3 of Section 2 defines the breadth of the territorial sea.

Every state has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with this Convention.


Article 33 of Section 4 defines the meaning and extent of the contiguous zone.


  1. In a zone contiguous to its territorial sea, described as the contiguous zone, the coastal State may exercise the control necessary to:
  • Prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations within its territory, or territorial sea;
  • Punish infringement of the above laws and regulations committed within its territory or territorial sea.
  1. The contiguous zone may not extend beyond 24 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

Article 56 of Part V defines the rights, jurisdiction and duties of the coastal State within its EEZ.


The exclusive economic zone is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, subject to the specific legal regime established in the Convention. This zone shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.


Article 56 states that:


  • In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has:
  • Sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, current and winds;
  • Jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to:
  • the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures;
  • marine scientific research;
  • the protection and preservation of the marine environment;
  • other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.
  • In exercising its rights and performing its duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State shall have due regard to the rights and duties of other States and shall act in a manner compatible with the provisions of this Convention.
  • The rights set out in this article with respect to the seabed and subsoil shall be exercised in accordance with Part VI.

Now the UK has left the European Union [EU], as a sovereign state, it has the right to establish its own territorial seas and EEZ. Obviously, delimitation by means of median lines will be required between the other coastal states bordering the North Sea and the English Channel, as well as those between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. It should be borne in mind that Rockall lies within 200 miles of St. Kilda, and is a British possession, thus the area involved will be extensive, covering thousands of square miles. Therefore, how best to patrol and police it?




The above extracts from UNCLOS 82 describe the extent of the various zones and the responsibilities of coastal States. Although fisheries patrols are carried out by the Royal Navy in England and Wales, and by Marine Scotland Compliance [formerly the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency] in Scottish waters, they are at present functioning on behalf of the EU, ensuring compliance with European fisheries legislation. Currently, the RN deploys three Batch 1 River-class OPVs and Scotland operates three civilian manned OPVs. The RN has in recent years seen their commitment to the task reduced to two vessels, as RN OPVs find themselves tasked to the Mediterranean and Caribbean, although this will stop once all five Batch 2 River-class are commissioned.  Aerial surveillance has, and continues to be, conducted in all UK fisheries waters using twin turbo-prop aircraft, and complements satellite-derived data to give a picture of activities in UK waters.


As well as the above which can be termed the “current situation”, this document will examine other possible solutions, and it must be remembered that the surveillance required in future will be of greater scope and of more importance than the effort of a state which is part of the EU.



Illustration 1: United Kingdom Exclusive Economic Zone – Post Brexit





The principal reason for including this model is to illustrate what can be achieved with a small number of highly experienced personnel, the right ships and aircraft, and tight control of costs. After the 1982 conflict, attempts were made to establish a joint arrangement for fisheries management with Argentina. Subsequently, It became obvious that no such arrangement was forthcoming, and with over 700 vessels fishing around the archipelago, and the only revenue accruing to the Islands being that charged for transhipping fish in sheltered waters, the British Government decided to act unilaterally and establish a fisheries zone. This was not an EEZ as such, rather it was a conservation zone, which extended for 150 nautical miles from a centre point in the Falklands Sound and was designated the Falkland Islands Interim Conservation Zone [FICZ], comprising of circa 70,000 square nautical miles.


This was established in 1986, and regulated fishing commenced in early 1987.  Before the contract was awarded, the bidding had been narrowed to the MoD [representing the RN], and Peter Derham Associates [PDA], a company formed by Captain P J Derham OBE, a former Chief Inspector of Fisheries at the UK MAFF. Cost was of the essence here; MoD proposed a four-vessel organisation at a cost of £25m per annum; PDA put forward a 2 OPV and one surveillance aircraft at a cost of £7.5m per annum and in due course were awarded a two-year rolling contract to provide fisheries surveillance for a minimum of 324 days actual availability per annum.


It is not the intention of this paper to discuss the modus operandi, but two 95m OPVs were provided from a reputable British company and one Dornier 228-202 was lease-purchased to carry out aerial surveillance of the FICZ five days a week. This was operated by Bristow Helicopters Ltd, and pilots were shared between the MoD contract helicopters and the fisheries aircraft, thus reducing both crew and maintenance costs. Fisheries officers were all BSFOs, and the skippers of the OPVs were former British deep-sea trawler masters. The importance of the financial arrangement is significant in that the best year for revenue during the author’s service there was circa £30m, [1990]. The basic format was continued by the FIG and continues to operate to the present day. It should be noted that RN Castle class OPVs had a crew of circa 38, whilst the civilian manned OPVs managed with 14, plus one Senior Fisheries Officer.


Despite the success of this arrangement, it has not proved itself in other parts of the world where attempts to emulate it have failed. Perhaps if PDA had been a large enough organisation to conduct surveillance in more than one fishery, it may have been a different case. However, attempts to provide a similar service failed in various parts of Africa and in the Far East. There are many reasons attributed to this. They include poorly run companies with old, unsuitable ships; the wrong kind of personnel engaged as fisheries officers, often people with little or no training or experience, and with no knowledge of the fishery, lack of sound financial resources and often a “get rich quick” mentality by the operators.


It therefore not recommended as a model for post-Brexit territorial maritime surveillance.




Both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy face uncertain times, and financial constraints, cuts in capabilities and lack of assets and platforms seem set to continue into the foreseeable future. The forthcoming strategic review, apparently scheduled for the summer, looks like doing little to change this situation, and the news that the Type 31 programme is subject to a four-year delay, coupled with the glacial pace of the construction of Type 26 frigates and Astute class submarines give little to be optimistic about. As a result, it seems unlikely that military maritime surveillance assets will be able to conduct the kind of constant patrolling required once the UK reverts to the status of a fully sovereign coastal state. Indications are that all five batch 2 River class OPVs will be forward deployed with one already in the Falkland Islands and another to the Caribbean. Of the batch 1 River-class, three are to be retained at present, whilst the fourth, HMS Clyde, is to be sold to Brazil.


The United Kingdom apparently has no plans to run an active maritime coast guard, in the manner of the United States and other nations, and therefore it is suggested that the state must rely on an enhanced Border Force to carry out the broader tasks of territorial and EEZ surveillance. The ships will require to remain at sea for extended periods, often in inclement weather conditions which are experienced in the seas and the Atlantic Ocean which surround the British Isles. Tasks will include surveillance of the EEZ, including oil and gas installations, detecting the transhipping/landing of prohibited goods and restricted goods, drug interdiction, the prevention of people smuggling, and fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance. Inshore craft will be required to monitor remote ports and provide a law enforcement presence in remote locations around the UK.


Border Force at present has four 42.8m STAN PATROL 4207 class boats [26 knots] and a Finnish TELKKA class OPV [50m 22 knots]. These vessels presently operate 365 days per year with two alternating crews. For inshore patrols, the force has, in 2017, acquired eight 18.8 m rescue craft, which are among the largest RIBs ever completed. These are 35-knot craft and will patrol the inshore waters of the country.


This paper proposed that, in addition to the above, the RN batch 1 River-class OPVs, which are being retained in RN service, should be dedicated to EEZ patrolling in addition to vessels in Border Force service. These large, capable OPVs have at least 10 years of active life left and should be considered essential assets to police the UK EEZ. Tyne, Severn and Mersey are 79.5m OPVs, all having speeds in excess of 20knots. Bearing in mind the current naval manning problems, thought should be given to manning via the Royal Naval Reserve, with ships being allocated to suitable RNR divisions, thus giving back the reserve a sea-going role, both useful in itself as well as being strategically important.


Irrespective of this, it is clear that the current assets will be hard-pressed to meet the scope of the task, bearing in mind the extent of the area to be covered, therefore government needs to address the issue if it is serious about a UK EEZ being other than the status quo in disguise.

Border Force requires 4 OPV sized vessels which, along with RN and Scottish OPVs would provide a core of vessels able to conduct 14-day deepwater patrols in the Atlantic, not the most forgiving of seas in winter.


Ideally, the present arrangement in Scotland should be terminated, and the Scottish fisheries OPVs co-opted into an enlarged Border Force organisation. Whether this might be politically possible, is quite another matter.


Aerial surveillance would be provided by commercial sources and requires twin turbo-prop aircraft fitted for maritime surveillance and operated by crews familiar with both covert and overt surveillance over the sea. This of necessity often requires low-level flying and photography. It has been found useful in other parts of the world to have aircrew gazetted as “duly appointed and authorised officers” where their evidence may be required in a court of law. These aircraft and their reports back up, on a regular basis, satellite imagery and other intelligence which will be available to area and central control centres. There are many specialised aviation companies in this field, in both the UK and continental Europe, with suitable aircraft equipped with the necessary sensors and radars, plus communications outfits dedicated to the task and able to provide secure reliable communications between patrol vessels and command centres. It is thus suggested that this model would be suitable for providing territorial water surveillance for post-Brexit UK.


Command and Control. Experience has shown clearly that a central Command and Control organisation is essential. How this might be organised is out with the scope of this short paper, however, fragmentation of effort by differing organisations is a recipe for disaster. Something tight with all the requisite communications and staffed by experienced operators, perhaps on the lines of the Fisheries Squadron HQ might be a suitable model, however, this new organisation needs to be civilian-led, with inputs to DEFRA and the Home Office, as well as the Coastguard and police.


Note on Fisheries.


Leaving the EU means that the UK will also leave the Common Fisheries Policy [CFP]. Fisheries hold a special place in the British psyche, as a result of Great Britain being an island. Although the fishing industry accounts for only 0.5% of UK GDP, it is an important industry supporting many from catching to processing and export, much of which is to the EU. Because of this, the issues relating to EU boat access are complex, and in some cases historical, dating from before the establishment of the EEC. As an example, some access rights to UK waters now within the UK territorial sea date as far back as the mid-17th century.


As a result, there will need to be much discussion about shared and straddling stocks, quotas, total allowable catches, maximum sustainable yields etc. between the UK, the EU and other




Non-member states such as the Faroe Islands, Norway and Iceland. It will also present an opportunity to overhaul British fisheries management, examine how it is funded, and look at items such as landing fees etc. In doing so, it must be remembered that fishing is not a “one size fits all” industry, and a balance needs to be struck to take into consideration the diverse needs of the one-man potter, as well as the largest modern trawler.




19 FEBRUARY 2020.


Note: The author was involved in all three Cod Wars, served in three RN Island Class OPVs and has over twenty years of EEZ surveillance experience in West and Southern Africa, the South Atlantic, and the Far and Middle East.