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Top 5 Disputed Facts About International Waters

VO: Chris Masson

Written by Simon Banderob

Top 5 Disputed Facts About International Waters

Pirates, garbage, and all the unsanctioned gambling you can handle! That's International Waters in a nutsheel. Not to mention pirate radio, geopolitics, war posturing, and... dolphins! From the pacific garbage patch to the straight of Gibraltar, on this episode of Top 5 Facts, we reveal the most interesting facts about International Waters!

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Special thanks to our user jackhammer for submitting the idea on our Interactive Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest


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Written by Simon Banderob

Top 5 Facts International Waters

Out in the middle of the ocean you can find many things: idyllic islands, glorious sunrises, a boy left adrift in a boat with only a tiger for company on the endless seascape... and not much in the way of laws. Welcome to WatchMojo's Top 5 Facts.
Ahoy and avast as we set a course for five facts about international waters. Batten down the hatches m’hearties and... um… that’s all the pirate lingo I can handle right now.

#5: Pirate Radio from International Waters Brought Brit Rock to Brits

There’s a lot of unsavory and even criminal activity that goes on international waters thanks to a lack government control. But sometimes something beautiful comes out of it. During the 1960s in the United Kingdom, intrepid DJs would take their radio stations aboard small boats off the British coast and broadcast from international waters. Why? In the 1960s, the out-of-touch BBC had a total monopoly on radio broadcasting in the UK. The result: in the decade of The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Beatles, British radio audiences were starved for good music. Enter pirate radio. The stiff-upper lip BBC stations were suddenly in serious competition and forced to change thanks to Radio Coraline, London Wonderful and others who willing to bring jazz, rock, reggae and eventually hip-hop and R&B to British airwaves.

#4: Not All International Waters Are Oceans

Before the age of international diplomacy, landlocked countries fought bloody wars to access the sea. Even today, 48 nations are landlocked and need a way of reaching the ocean. In Europe, the Danube river is a designated international waterway, used by landlocked Austria, Hungary, Moldova, Serbia, and Slovakia so they can get to the Black Sea. It wasn’t always this way. Before international agreements on river-sharing, the Danube was a tool of war and empire by the Romans, Turks, Austrians and even the Nazis. Today, Europe’s second longest river is an example of peace and shared responsibility. Hurray for international peace and order! And that’s probably the only example of the rule of law and successful, international coöperation in this entire episode. Hurray.

#3: Marine Parks Might Be the Key to Peace on the High Seas

And we’re not talking Marineland here. Over in the South China Sea dispute, 6 nations are striving to control the same area of international waters and it could get ugly. But what if NOBODY took over the South China Sea and everyone agreed to stay out? That means no exploring for oil, no naval exercises and no military bases. This would create a massive patch of ocean where fish populations can rebound and coral reefs can regrow. The idea dates back to marine biologist John McManus in the early 90s. He argues that having a safe breeding ground for fish like this would mean a bigger catch in the surrounding areas, providing more fish for southeast Asia. Now that’s an idea; less war, more food!

#2: Climate Change Is Redefining International Waters

New areas of navigable ocean are opening up on the top of the world and there is no agreement on what to do about it. Because of accelerating climate change, the Arctic Ocean is expected to be ice-free every the summer as early as 2020 and it’s not just scientists who are noticing. Oil and mining companies are drooling at the prospect of seabed drilling and mining. Ah... burn oil, change the climate, get even more oil... Governments of northern countries–not to mention their militaries–are very interested in who will control drilling, fishing and shipping rights through the Arctic. Even Canada is caught up in the controversy over the thawing of the Arctic and the Northwest Passage. The Canadian government sees the waters of Northwest Territory and Nunavut as Canadian, though the rest of the world disagrees. The ice may be thawing but tensions sure aren’t.

#1: Garbage and Pirates Are No One's Responsibility

You know you’re in a bad neighbourhood when criminals roam the streets and the garbage never gets picked up. The ocean is pretty much the worst neighbourhood ever. Remember, the point of international waters is that anyone can use it and practically nobody is responsible. Take the garbage: because of the currents of the ocean, garbage from boats and runoff from land is carried in huge circular pattern called a gyre. The Pacific garbage patch is a raft of despair the size of Texas, choking unlucky animals passing through. If that wasn’t bad enough, piracy still continues in international waters–though modern pirates don’t wear tricorne hats and multiple scarves. Well, maybe they’re affecting some steampunk motif, but that’s kind of gaudy. Anyway, technically, international law says that any country can stop and punish pirates, and many militaries do exactly that regularly. However, in a lot of ways, it’s one of those situations where, since it’s everybody’s responsibility, nobody takes full responsibility. Most countries are reticent to prosecute and imprison pirates, so they often just take their gyroscope blunderbusses and victorian sword canes– or whatever steampunk weapons they have on them– and set them free.

So, do you think the high seas are a place of limitless adventure and opportunity? Or are you landlubbers who’d rather not get their feet wet in the anarchy of international waters? For more piston-powered poleaxe top 10s and barnacle-encrusted Top 5s, be sure to subscribe to

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