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Opinion of the Court
concerning straits leading to inland waters. As discussed supra, at 18-19, a rule applying 10-mile bay-closing principles to straits leading to inland waters would not always lead to the same result as a simple 10-mile rule. Under the former approach, the critical factor is where the strait leads, not the width of the strait. Alaska does not attempt to show that Stefansson Sound is a strait leading to inland waters.
Nor does the 1950 Chapman Line reflect a “firm and continuing” policy of enclosing waters behind fringing islands as "inland waters.” The Chapman Line may be consistent with such a policy, but as the Master noted, no contemporaneous document explains the theory behind the Chapman Line in terms of a simple 10-mile rule. Report 85–88. Indeed, a 1950 draft memorandum from the State Department Geographer to the Justice Department opined that Chandeleur and Breton Sounds should be treated as inland w not only because they were screened by a chain of islands that were less than 10 miles apart, but also because they were “not extensively traversed by foreign vessels” and because the islands covered "more than half the total arc of the territorial sea.” U. S. Exh. 85–400. These criteria go far beyond the simple 10-mile rule, and Alaska does not show how they would apply to Stefansson Sound. Finally, statements in the briefs filed by the United States in litigation with the Gulf States that certain waters behind offshore islands were inland waters do not explicitly rely on a 10-mile rule. Moreover, in our decision in United States v. Louisiana, 363 U. S. 1, 67, n. 108 (1960), we made clear that we did not take the Government's concession that certain islands off Louisiana's shore enclosed inland waters “to settle the location of the coastline of Louisiana or that of any other State."
These and other documents considered by the Master support his conclusion that Alaska has not identified a firm and continuing 10-mile rule that would clearly require treating the waters of Stefansson Sound as inland waters at the time
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of Alaska's statehood. Indeed, we note that the result Alaska seeks would be in tension with the outcome of the Massachusetts Boundary Case, 475 U. S. 89 (1986), where, a year after deciding the Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case, we concluded that the waters of Nantucket Sound are not inland waters. Following the Court's decision in the Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case, Massachusetts argued that a 10-mile rule would make the waters of Nantucket Sound inland waters. The Master in that case recognized that no entrance between the islands enclosing Nantucket Sound exceeded 10 miles, but nevertheless concluded that Massachusetts had not shown that the waters of Nantucket Sound were inland waters. Report of Special Master in Massachusetts Boundary Case, 0. T. 1984, No. 35 Orig., pp. 69.2–70. We rejected the Commonwealth's claim to inland waters status for Nantucket Sound, framed in its exception the Master's recommendation as an "ancient title" claim. Massachusetts Boundary Case, supra, at 105. If the case could have been resolved by reference to a simple 10-mile rule for all fringing islands, we need not have entertained such a claim.
In sum, we conclude that Alaska's entitlement to submerged lands along its Arctic Coast must be determined by applying the Convention's normal baseline principles. The Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case does not foreclose this conclusion. The sources before the Master showed that, in its foreign relations, particularly in the period 1930 to 1949, the United States had advocated a rule under which objectionable pockets of high seas would be assimilated to a coastal nation's territorial sea. Such a rule would have been inconsistent with the maintenance of a 10-mile rule for fringing islands. The United States also advocated a rule for treating the waters of a strait leading to an inland sea as inland waters, but that rule is not equivalent to Alaska's simple 10-mile rule. Whether the waters of Stefansson Sound Opinion of the Court
would be considered inland waters under the 1930 proposal for straits is unclear.
Accordingly, we overrule Alaska's first exception.
Alaska next excepts to the Master's conclusion that a small gravel and ice formation in the Flaxman Island chain, known as Dinkum Sands, is not an island. Whether Dinkum Sands is an island affects Alaska's ownership of offshore submerged lands in the feature's vicinity.
As discussed above, a State's coastline provides the starting point for measuring its 3-mile Submerged Lands Act grant. See 43 U. S. C. $$ 1301(a)(2), 1311(a). Generally, the State's coastline corresponds to a “baseline” from which, under the 1958 Convention, the United States measures its territorial sea for international purposes. Supra, at 8. Article 10(1) of the Convention defines an island as "a naturally-formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high-tide.” A line of ordinary low water along the coast of an island can serve as a baseline for measuring the territorial sea. See Arts. 10(2), 3. The Convention also permits a nation to claim a belt of territorial sea around certain features that are not above water at high tide, so long as they are located wholly or partly within the territorial sea belt of the mainland or an island. Arts. 11(1)-(2). Again, for purposes of determining a State's ownership rights under the Submerged Lands Act, we are concerned with a 3-mile belt of the territorial sea. See supra, at 8–9. Because Dinkum Sands is not within three miles of the nearest islands or the mainland, it does not meet the requirements of Article 11. Accordingly, Dinkum Sands has its own belt of territorial sea—and Alaska owns submerged lands beneath that belt-only if Dinkum Sands satisfies the requirements of Article 10(1).
The issue here has been narrowed to whether Dinkum Sands is "above water at high-tide.” Dinkum Sands has fre
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quently been submerged. Apart from daily shifts in the tide and seasonal shifts in sea level, the feature itself changes height. Report 275, 280–283, 309, n. 66. This phenomenon may be at least in part attributable to what the United States' expert witness termed "ice collapse.” Dinkum Sands is formed by layers of ice and gravel mixed with ice. As the summer months approach, ice within Dinkum Sands melts and the feature slumps in elevation. 7 Tr. 986–987, 8 Tr. 1060–1062 (July 23, 1984).
Alaska and the United States agree that “high-tide” under Article 10(1) should be defined as “mean high water,” an average measure of high water over a 19-year period. Cf. United States v. California, 382 U. S. 448, 449–450 (1966) (per curiam) (entering decree defining an island as "above the level of mean high water” and defining mean high water as “the average elevation of all the high tides occurring over a period of 18.6 years”); Borax Consol., Ltd. v. Los Angeles, 296 U. S. 10, 26–27 (1935) (approving definition of “mean high tide line” based on “average height of all the high waters ... over a considerable period of time,” at least 18.6 years). They disagree over how frequently a feature of variable elevation such as Dinkum Sands must be above mean high water to qualify as an island. Based on the drafting history of Article 10, the Master concluded that an island must "generally,” “normally,” or “usually" be above mean high water. Report 302. Applying this standard, the Master reviewed historical hydrographic and cartographic evidence and the results of a joint monitoring project conducted by the parties in 1981 and 1982. He concluded that Dinkum Sands is frequently below mean high water and therefore is not an island. Id., at 310.
Alaska excepts to this conclusion on three grounds. First, Alaska challenges the legal conclusion that Article 10(1) requires an island to be above mean high water at least "generally,” “normally,” or “usually.” Second, Alaska disputes the Master's factual finding that Dinkum Sands is freOpinion of the Court
quently below mean high water. Finally, Alaska argues that Dinkum Sands should be treated as an island when it is in fact above mean high water. We find no error in the Master's conclusion.
In the proceedings before the Master, the United States took the position that an island must be “permanently” above mean high water, Brief for United States on Dinkum Sands 17–29, while Alaska argued that Article 10 permits a feature "to slump on occasion below” mean high water but still qualify as an island, Brief for Alaska on Dinkum Sands 64. The Master essentially rejected the United States' position in favor of a somewhat more lenient standard, under which an island must "generally,” “normally,” or “usually” be above mean high water. Although Alaska now objects to this standard, Alaska Exceptions Brief 44-45, 51, it sets forth no clear alternative. Alaska's observation that “an island that is occasionally submerged is no less an island,” id., at 45, is not inconsistent with the Master's approach.
If Alaska is now implicitly claiming that a feature need appear only episodically above mean high water to qualify as an island, its position is without merit. Because Article 10(1) does not specify how frequently a feature must be above mean high water to qualify as an island, we must look to the Convention's drafting history for guidance. See Louisiana Boundary Case, 394 U. S., at 42–47. In urging that the Master's interpretation of Article 10(1) is inconsistent with the development of that provision, Alaska focuses on the fact that earlier drafts specified that an island must be "permanently above high-water mark.” Report 297 (citing J. François, Report on the Régime of the Territorial Sea, (1952] 2 Y. B. Int'l L. Comm'n 25, 36, U. N. Doc. A/CN.4/53 (in French; translation from Alaska Exh. 84A-21, p. 41)); see Alaska Exceptions Brief 50. The eventual deletion of the modifier “permanently,” in Alaska's view, suggests that Arti