Skip to content

Obtaining Proper Clearance

Foreign Research Clearances

As a general rule, vessels may freely pass through a country's territorial waters but may not engage in research or data collection without advance permission from the country involved. Details on the current claims of the various coastal nations and their vigor in enforcing them are available from the WHOI Marine Operations Coordinator. As a precautionary measure, any operations slated to occur within 200 miles of a foreign coast should be discussed with the Coordinator, and any accompanying conditions and prerequisites should be investigated.

It is the responsibility of the Chief Scientist to inform the Marine Operations Coordinator well in advance (9 months to 1 year) of any plans to make a foreign port call or to work within the 200 mile limit of a foreign country. The Marine Operations Coordinator will then initiate requests for clearances and will follow up on their status. These clearance requests must be handled through the U.S. State Department and the Foreign Office of the country concerned, and frequently require 7 to 8 months to accomplish.

As a matter of policy, the ship's Master is forbidden to carry out research in legally recognized foreign territorial waters unless documented permission has been previously obtained. Changes made in the cruise plan while underway which would involve impromptu work in territorial waters normally will not be approved.

There is an increasing tendency for countries to attach conditions to clearances. Frequently, official observers or scientific participants from the host country will have to be taken aboard ship or will have to be involved in the processing of the scientific results. Additional port calls may be necessary to accommodate these foreign visitors. The host nation may require sharing of samples and data; at the least, the host is likely to require copies of technical reports and papers within a designated time period following the cruise. Meeting these requirements is generally the responsibility of the Chief Scientist. Failure to do so may result in the denial of future clearance requests; therefore WHOI, the funding agencies, and the U.S. State Department will monitor compliance carefully.

Transportation and subsistence costs for foreign participants may have to be provided. Chief Scientists should account for these costs in their scientific program budgets and should make allowances for integrating foreign participants into the cruise. Additional costs associated with foreign ports, such as fees and expenses for the embarkation and debarkation of the scientific party, are the responsibility of the Chief Scientist. Appropriate tourist cards or visas should be obtained prior to arriving in the foreign port. To reduce delays and aggravation, visas should be obtained if available.

It is most important that both parties clearly understand the terms of the imposed conditions, and that the Chief Scientist be fully prepared to carry out the agreement. Failure to do so will make it much more difficult for other researchers to gain access to coastal waters, and could result in the denial of future ship time for the defaulting scientist. The Chief Scientist will be informed of requirements in each instance.

Navy Clearance

Each Alvin dive requires U.S. Navy area clearance to ensure the safety of both Alvin and other vessels. The Alvin office is responsible for obtaining these clearances, and will normally do so about one month in advance of any planned activity. Requests are based on information obtained from the scientist(s) concerning proposed study site size and location, so it is important to get accurate cruise plan information to the Alvin office. Late changes in the position or date of a dive require new clearance and may cause complications and/or time delays.