The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, its functions and activities
Last updated: 17 December 2013
The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea of the Office of Legal Affairs has consistently been recognized for its role in contributing to the wider acceptance and rational and consistent application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Its mandate, as spelled out by the General Assembly of the United Nations and in the Secretary-General's Bulletin, is to carry out the responsibilities entrusted to the Secretary-General upon the adoption of the Convention and fulfil the functions associated with its entry into force. More specifically, the Division monitors developments in all relevant areas in order to report annually to the General Assembly on matters relating to the law of the sea and ocean affairs. Further, it formulates recommendations to the Assembly and other intergovernmental forums aimed at promoting a better understanding of the Convention, and ensures that the Organization has the capacity to respond to requests for advice and assistance from States in the implementation of the Convention.
The Division serves as the secretariat of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and provides information, advice and assistance to States with a view to promoting a better understanding of the Convention and the related Agreements, their wider acceptance, uniform and consistent application and effective implementation.
Since 1999, the Division has serviced the meetings of the United Nations Open-ended informal consultative process on oceans and the law of the sea established by the General Assembly in its resolution 54/33 in order to facilitate its annual review, in an effective and constructive manner, of developments in ocean affairs by considering the Secretary-Generalís annual reports on oceans and the law of the sea and by suggesting particular issues to be considered by the General Assembly.
The Division maintains and routinely updates a comprehensive information system and reference library on the law of the sea and ocean affairs, including databases on ocean-related legislative materials, national profiles and marine mineral resources.
As part of its continuing effort to promote understanding of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, its wider acceptance, uniform and consistent application, and effective implementation, the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea has undertaken educational and training programmes aimed at capacity building at the national level and the regional levels, for the purpose of achieving these goals. The Division's educational activities are carried out primarily under the Hamilton Shirley Memorial Fellowship Programme, and its training activities under the TRAIN-SEA-COAST Programme, as well as the Technical Cooperation Trust Fund Agreement Between the United Nations and the Nippon Foundation of Japan.
Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea
(Excerpts from the Secretary-General's Bulletin ST/SGB/1997/8 - Organization of the Office of Legal Affairs)
7.1 The Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea is headed by a Director who is accountable to the Legal Counsel.
7.2 The core functions of the Division are as follows:
Coastal States, under article 16, paragraph 2, article 47, paragraph 9, article 75, paragraph 2, and article 84, paragraph 2, of UNCLOS, are required to deposit with the Secretary-General of the United Nations charts showing straight baselines and archipelagic baselines as well as the outer limits of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf; alternatively, the lists of geographical coordinates of points, specifying the geodetic datum, may be substituted. Coastal States are also required to give due publicity to all these charts and lists of geographical coordinates.
Furthermore, under article 76, paragraph 9, coastal States are required to deposit with the Secretary-General charts and relevant information permanently describing the outer limits of the continental shelf extending beyond 200 nautical miles. In this case, due publicity is to be given by the Secretary-General. Together with the submission of their charts and/or lists of geographical coordinates, States parties are required to provide appropriate information regarding original geodetic datum.
In this connection, it should be noted that the deposit of charts or of lists of geographical coordinates of points with the Secretary-General of the United Nations is an international act by a State party to UNCLOS in order to conform with the deposit obligations referred to above, after the entry into force of UNCLOS. This act is addressed to the Secretary-General in the form of a note verbale or a letter by the Permanent Representative to the United Nations or other person considered as representing the State party. The mere existence or adoption of legislation or the conclusion of a maritime boundary delimitation treaty registered with the Secretariat, even if they contain charts or lists of coordinates, cannot be interpreted as an act of deposit with the Secretary-General under the Convention.
Acting upon the request contained in General Assembly resolution 49/28 of 6 December 1994, the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, as the responsible substantive unit of the United Nations Secretariat, has established facilities for the custody of charts and lists of geographical coordinates deposited and for the dissemination of such information in order to assist States in complying with their due publicity obligations. In this connection, States parties are encouraged to provide all the necessary information for conversion of the submitted geographic coordinates from the original datum into the World Geodetic System 84 (WGS 84), a geodetic datum system that is increasingly being accepted as the standard and is used by the Division to produce its illustrative maps.
The Division has also established a Geographic Information System (GIS). GIS enables the Division to store and process geographic information and produce custom-tailored cartographic outputs through the conversion of conventional maps, charts and lists of geographical coordinates in digital format. GIS also helps the Division to identify any inconsistencies in the information submitted. The GIS database is connected with the National Legislation/Delimitation Treaties database, which facilitates retrieval of relevant information on certain geographic features.
The Division has also sought to assist States in fulfilling their other obligations of due publicity established by UNCLOS. These obligations relate to all laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State relating to innocent passage through the territorial sea (article 21 (3)) and all laws and regulations adopted by States bordering straits relating to transit passage through straits used for international navigation (article 42 (3)).
The Division informs States parties to UNCLOS of the deposit of charts and geographical coordinates through a "maritime zone notification". The notifications are subsequently circulated to all States by means of the periodic publication entitled Law of the Sea Information Circular, together with other relevant information concerning the discharge by States of the due publicity obligation. The issues of the Law of the Sea Information Circular that have already been issued give ample evidence of the practice of States in this respect. The texts of the relevant legislation together with illustrative maps are then published in the Law of the Sea Bulletin.
In addition, States continue to discharge their obligations of due publicity regarding sea lanes and traffic separation schemes under articles 22, 41 and 53 of UNCLOS, inter alia, through IMO, which provides for the adoption of ships' routeing systems under SOLAS regulation V/8 and the adoption or amendment of traffic separation schemes (TSS) in rules 1 (d) and 10 of Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREG). Guidelines and criteria developed by IMO for the adoption of routeing measures are contained in the IMO General Provisions on Ship's Routeing (IMO Assembly resolution A.572 (14), as amended). These measures include traffic separation schemes (TSS), two-way routes, recommended tracks, areas to be avoided, inshore traffic zones, roundabouts, precautionary areas and deep-water routes. Information on recent new and amended traffic separation schemes and associated routeing measures is contained in annex 18 to the report of the Maritime Safety Committee on its 73rd session (MSC 73/21/Add.3).