The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, its functions and activities

Last updated: 17 December 2013

CORE FUNCTIONS  
  Secretariat services Functions concerning the deposit of charts and coordinates
Advice, studies, assistance and research on the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

The secretariat of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and of the Meetings of States Parties

Deposit of charts and/or lists of geographical coordinates of points under article 16(2), article 47(9), article 75(2), and article 84(2), of UNCLOS
Monitoring and research activities and maintaining a comprehensive information system 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 the annual review by the Assembly of developments in ocean affairs
Providing training and fellowship and technical assistance Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
How to contact the Division:  Write to:
Director, Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs, Room DC2-0450, United Nations, New York, NY 10017, USA

Telephone: (212) 963-3962
Fax: (917) 367-0560
Email: DOALOS

    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 also provides secretariat services to the Meetings of States Parties to the Convention and to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

       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/2008/13 - Organization of the Office of Legal Affairs)

9.1 The Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea is headed by a Director who is accountable to the Legal Counsel.

9.2 The core functions of the Division are as follows:

(a) Providing advice, studies, assistance and research and information on the application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the Convention) and related Agreements, on oceans and the law of the sea issues of a general nature and on specific developments relating to the research and legal regime for the oceans;

(b) Providing substantive servicing to the General Assembly, the Meeting of States Parties to the Convention, meetings of the States Parties to the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement and the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea regarding oceans and the law of the sea issues, as well as to such subsidiary bodies relating to the oceans as the Assembly may establish, such as the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction;

(c) Monitoring and reviewing developments in ocean affairs and the law of the sea and reporting thereon to the General Assembly through comprehensive annual reports on oceans and the law of the sea and fisheries-related issues, as well as special reports on specific topics of current interest;

(d) Providing substantive servicing, technical assistance and facilities to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in its examination of submissions by coastal States relating to the delineation of the outer limits of their continental shelf;

(e) Discharging the responsibilities, other than depositary functions, of the Secretary-General under the Convention, in particular with respect to the deposit by States of charts and lists of geographical coordinates concerning maritime zones, including lines of delimitation, and giving due publicity thereto, as required by the Convention, and developing and maintaining the appropriate Geographic Information System and other facilities for this purpose;

(f) Providing advice and support to the organizations of the United Nations system to ensure consistency with the Convention of the instruments and programmes in their respective areas of competence;

(g) Maintaining close liaison with the institutions established under the Convention and, in the case of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, also providing administrative support;

(h) Providing capacity-building assistance to developing countries in the field of ocean affairs and the law of the sea, through training, fellowships, technical assistance and trust funds for financial support;

(i) Discharging, as appropriate, responsibilities related to inter-agency coordination for issues relating to oceans and seas within the United Nations system;

(j) Conducting research and preparing substantive publications on the provisions of the Convention and on diverse issues relating to ocean affairs and the law of the sea;

(k) Maintaining a comprehensive information system, a website and a research library containing materials on ocean affairs and the law of the sea;

(l) Managing the voluntary trust funds established by the General Assembly whose terms of reference require the Division to undertake such activity;

(m) Preparing studies on relevant Articles of the Charter of the United Nations for the Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs.


 

Deposit of charts and/or lists of geographical coordinates and DOALOS Geographic Information System (GIS)

    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).

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