Recent damage to communications in the Baltic Sea prompted Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs to suggest closing the Baltic Sea to some ships. Experts say such a move would be difficult to implement given maritime law and practice. There have been closures in the past, but only during wartime.
The defense of maritime areas against foreign ships led to the Estonian-Latvian "Herring War" in 1995. More than 27.5 miles from the coast of Estonia, Latvian fishing ships were targeting herring around the Estonian island of Ruhnu. However, according to international maritime law, the border is continuous between points 27.5 miles apart. Estonia regarded the region as its own, while Latvians were used to fishing there.
"There is indeed such a fact in the history of the Republic of Estonia: in 1995, I think it was April 13, I was forced to send three border guard vessels to protect Ruhnu's fish stocks, or to protect the state border," Tarmo Kõuts, the director-general of Estonian Border Guard from 1993 to 2000, said.
However, he said that common sense prevailed, and he issued a memo to the government at the time, urging it to resolve the border dispute.
"In 1996, with Tiit Vähi as prime minister and Andris Škele as prime minister of Latvia, we all met in Latvia, and there, after long, long discussions, we came to a common position on the border," Kõuts recalled.
"I had the honor of putting the agreement on the map as there were no geographers in the delegation," he added.
Kõuts said the only way to close the Baltic Sea would be to close the sea area from the Danish Straits to Kronstadt.
Alexander Lott, a researcher at the University of Tartu and the the Norwegian Center for the Law of the Sea at the University of Tromsø, added that the regulation of international maritime and aviation traffic depends on the rules and laws of the sea. In the event of war, traffic obstruction could be an acceptable course of action.
"If international shipping is to be closed, it means closing several of the Danish straits, so to say. And the whole rationale behind the legal framework for international straits is based on the idea that they will not be closed," Lott said.
"These straits could be closed only to the countries, ships or planes of the countries, that NATO is at war with. So making the Baltic Sea a complete lake in terms of international sea and air traffic is out of the question," he added.
Ship traffic in the Baltic Sea has been hampered by various wars, from the First Turkish War in the mid-19th century to the Second World War.
Editor: Merili Nael, Kristina Kersa