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New York

London 18:11, 02 Jan 2013
New York 13:11, 02 Jan 2013
Last updated at 16:00 (UK time) 16 Dec 2009

UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Law of the Sea conference

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (PDF) lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world's oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources. It enshrines the notion that all problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be addressed as a whole.
 
The Convention established the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which is an independent judicial body to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention. The Tribunal is composed of 21 independent members, elected from among persons enjoying the highest reputation for fairness and integrity and of recognised competence in the field of the law of the sea.
 
The Convention was opened for signature on 10 December 1982 in Montego Bay, Jamaica. This marked the culmination of more than 14 years of work involving participation by more than 150 countries representing all regions of the world, all legal and political systems and the spectrum of socio/economic development. At the time of its adoption, the Convention embodied in one instrument traditional rules for the uses of the oceans and at the same time introduced new legal concepts and regimes and addressed new concerns. The Convention also provided the framework for further development of specific areas of the law of the sea.
 
The Convention entered into force in accordance with its article 308 on 16 November 1994, 12 months after the date of deposit of the sixtieth instrument of ratification or accession. Today, it is the globally recognized regime dealing with all matters relating to the law of the sea.
   
The Convention governs all aspects of ocean space, such as delimitation, environmental control, marine scientific research, economic and commercial activities, transfer of technology and the settlement of disputes relating to ocean matters.

Key features of the Convention:  

  • Coastal States exercise sovereignty over their territorial sea which they have the right to establish its breadth up to a limit not to exceed 12 nautical miles; foreign vessels are allowed "innocent passage" through those waters;
  • Ships and aircraft of all countries are allowed "transit passage" through straits used for international navigation; States bordering the straits can regulate navigational and other aspects of passage;
  • Archipelagic States, made up of a group or groups of closely related islands and interconnecting waters, have sovereignty over a sea area enclosed by straight lines drawn between the outermost points of the islands; the waters between the islands are declared archipelagic waters where States may establish sea lanes and air routes in which all other States enjoy the right of archipelagic passage through such designated sea lanes;
  • Coastal States have sovereign rights in a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with respect to natural resources and certain economic activities, and exercise jurisdiction over marine science research and environmental protection;
  • All other States have freedom of navigation and overflight in the EEZ, as well as freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines;
  • Land-locked and geographically disadvantaged States have the right to participate on an equitable basis in exploitation of an appropriate part of the surplus of the living resources of the EEZ's of coastal States of the same region or sub-region; highly migratory species of fish and marine mammals are accorded special protection;
  • Coastal States have sovereign rights over the continental shelf (the national area of the seabed) for exploring and exploiting it; the shelf can extend at least 200 nautical miles from the shore, and more under specified circumstances;
  • Coastal States share with the international community part of the revenue derived from exploiting resources from any part of their shelf beyond 200 miles;
  • The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf shall make recommendations to States on the shelf's outer boundaries when it extends beyond 200 miles;
  • All States enjoy the traditional freedoms of navigation, overflight, scientific research and fishing on the high seas; they are obliged to adopt, or cooperate with other States in adopting, measures to manage and conserve living resources;
  • The limits of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of islands are determined in accordance with rules applicable to land territory, but rocks which could not sustain human habitation or economic life of their own would have no economic zone or continental shelf;
  • States bordering enclosed or semi-enclosed seas are expected to cooperate in managing living resources, environmental and research policies and activities;
  • Land-locked States have the right of access to and from the sea and enjoy freedom of transit through the territory of transit States;
  • States are bound to prevent and control marine pollution and are liable for damage caused by violation of their international obligations to combat such pollution;
  • All marine scientific research in the EEZ and on the continental shelf is subject to the consent of the coastal State, but in most cases they are obliged to grant consent to other States when the research is to be conducted for peaceful purposes and fulfils specified criteria;
  • States are bound to promote the development and transfer of marine technology "on fair and reasonable terms and conditions", with proper regard for all legitimate interests;
  • States Parties are obliged to settle by peaceful means their disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention;
  • Disputes can be submitted to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea established under the Convention, to the International Court of Justice, or to arbitration. Conciliation is also available and, in certain circumstances, submission to it would be compulsory. The Tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction over deep seabed mining disputes.