19 June 2009
Press Release
SEA/1915

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Background Release


STATES PARTIES TO UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE LAW OF THE SEA


TO MEET AT HEADQUARTERS 22-26 JUNE

 


The nineteenth Meeting of States parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will be held at Headquarters from 22 to 26 June.


Often referred to as “the constitution of the oceans”, the Convention was adopted on 10 December 1982 and entered into force 12 years later, in November 1994.  Based on the understanding that “the problems of ocean space are interrelated and need to be considered as a whole”, the instrument comprises 320 articles and 9 annexes, governing all aspects of ocean space and maritime issues, ranging from navigational rights, maritime limits and marine scientific research to management of resources, protection of the marine environment and settlement of disputes.


The three institutions established by the Convention are the International Seabed Authority, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.


Among the matters to be considered at next week’s session are budgetary and administrative questions related to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and information reported by the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority and the Chairman of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.


International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea


The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea was established to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention.  It also has exclusive jurisdiction in disputes concerning deep seabed mineral resources and provides advisory opinions when requested to do so.  The Tribunal’s jurisdiction is mandatory in cases relating to the prompt release of vessels and crew, or with regard to requests for the prescription of provisional measures pending constitution of an arbitral tribunal.  Seated in Hamburg, Germany, the Tribunal is composed of 21 judges elected for nine-year terms.


According to the Tribunal’s 2008 annual report (document SPLOS/191), the Special Chamber of the Tribunal formed to deal with a dispute between Chile and the European Community concerning the conservation and sustainable exploitation of swordfish stocks met on 10 and 11 December 2008 to consider the parties’ request for a year-long continuation of the suspension of the time limits for the proceedings.  Prior to that, the European Union and Chile had informed the Registrar that they had reached agreement on a draft “Understanding concerning the conservation of swordfish stocks in the South-Eastern Pacific Ocean”.  The purpose of the document was to agree on a bilateral fisheries cooperation framework for swordfish that should enable both parties to agree on a discontinuance of the proceedings before the Special Chamber.  By an order dated 11 December, the Special Chamber extended the time limit for making preliminary objections until 1 January 2010, maintaining the rights of the parties to revive the proceedings at any time.


In addition, the Tribunal held two sessions devoted mostly to legal matters of relevance to its jurisdiction, rules and judicial procedures, as well as administrative and budgetary matters.  Among the issues addressed during the Tribunal’s twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth sessions were the guidelines concerning the posting of a bond or other financial security with the Registrar in prompt release proceedings, time frame for urgent proceedings, practice of international courts or tribunals that may have competence to settle disputes relating to the law of the sea, and submission of applications for prompt release of vessels and crews.


Members of the Tribunal also exchanged views on recent developments concerning law of the sea matters, such as the consideration of the item “Oceans and the law of the sea” by the General Assembly; consultations within the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on deep-sea fisheries in the high seas and the development of port State measures to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; the discussions within the United Nations Open-Ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea; the results of the second Meeting of 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; maritime security, including piracy; instruments being developed at the International Maritime Organization (IMO); and law of the sea matters before international courts and tribunals.


Regarding the work of its main Chambers, the Tribunal reports that the Seabed Disputes Chamber held an exchange of views on the work of the International Seabed Authority and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, considering, among other things, the competence of the Tribunal regarding disputes relating to the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.  The discussions in the Chamber for Marine Environment Disputes focused on such issues as municipal environmental legislation and decisions of domestic courts relating to international environmental law, as well as protection of the marine environment of ice-covered areas.


The Chamber for Fisheries Disputes considered the practice of regional fisheries management organizations for combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and recent developments concerning fisheries agreements, and looked at the dispute settlement clause set out in the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention and the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the Convention Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (1995 Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement) and its possible application in respect of disputes arising out of regional fisheries management agreements.


Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf


The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf considers the data submitted by coastal States concerning claims to outer limits of the continental shelf that may extend beyond 200 nautical miles.


The Meeting will have before it a letter from the Chairman of the Commission on the progress of work since the States Parties eighteenth Meeting last year (document SPLOS/195).


He reports, in particular, on the Commission’s proceedings during its twenty-second and twenty-third sessions in 2008 and 2009.  During the twenty-second session, the Commission and its Subcommissions continued their consideration of the joint submission made by France, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as the submissions made, respectively, by Norway and by France in respect of the areas of French Guiana and New Caledonia, and held meetings with respective delegations.  The Subcommission established for the consideration of the submission made by Mexico held its first official meeting.  In May 2008, the Commission received new submissions by Barbados and the United Kingdom in respect of Ascension Island.  Also at its twenty-second session, the Commission adopted its recommendations in regard to the submission made by New Zealand on 19 April 2006.


During its twenty-third session, the Commission continued its work on several ongoing cases and completed its consideration of the 2006 joint submission by France, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom in respect of the area of the Celtic Sea and the Bay of Biscay, and adopted its recommendations in that regard.  It also adopted its recommendations in connection with the 2006 submission by Norway in respect of areas in the Arctic Ocean, the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea; and the 2007 submission by Mexico in respect of the Western Polygon in the Gulf of Mexico.  Also during the twenty-third session, the Commission received submissions from Indonesia and Japan, as well as a joint submission from Mauritius and Seychelles.


Annexed to the document is a draft resolution for consideration at the Meeting, whereby the Meeting would call upon States Parties whose experts are serving on the Commission to do their utmost to ensure their full participation in the work of the Commission.  In that regard, it would clarify the costs that need to be defrayed by the coastal States that nominate members of the Commission [Paragraph 5 of article 2, annex II, states that the State Party which submitted the nomination of a member of the Commission shall defray the expenses of that member while in performance of Commission duties.]


Regarding the workload of the Commission, the Secretariat has issued a note that will be before the Meeting (documents SPLOS/INF/22 and SPLOS/INF/22/Add.1) dealing with issues related to the workload of the Commission.  The documents highlight that, since the eighteenth Meeting, 39 States have made a submission to the Commission and 43 States transmitted preliminary information to the Secretary-General in accordance with the decision of the eighteenth Meeting contained in document SPLOS/183.


Administrative and Budgetary Matters


Before the Meeting is a report on budgetary matters for the financial period 2007-2008 (document SPLOS/138), presented by the Tribunal’s Registrar.  Annexed to the report is the provisional performance report for 2007-2008, which states that the total expenditure for that period stands at about €14.74 million, representing 85.61 per cent of the amount of appropriations approved for 2007-2008 (€17.21 million).  The underperformance can largely be explained by the savings owing to the fact that two cases were submitted simultaneously in July 2007 and were dealt with within a period of one month, in accordance with relevant rules of the Tribunal (instead of two months had the cases been filed separately).  Furthermore, in 2008, no new case was submitted to the Tribunal, which resulted in additional savings under “case-related costs”.


There were also savings with respect of staff costs amounting to €295,165, owing in large part to vacant positions in the Registry during the period in question.  Savings amounting to €232,696 were also made following the re-election of five judges in June 2008 -- in the budget approved in 2006, provisions had been made for additional pension payments for the seven judges whose terms of office came to an end on 30 September 2008.  An amount of €50,568 was saved under the budget line “Annual allowances”, owing to the resignation of one judge and the death of another during the period in question.


The report also contains information on action taken pursuant to the decisions on budgetary matters taken by the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth Meetings of States Parties, as well as on action taken pursuant to the financial regulations of the Tribunal.


The Meeting will also have before it the report of external auditors for the financial period 2007-2008, with financial statements of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea as of 31 December 2008 (document SPLOS/192).  The audit was performed by BDO Warentreuhand Aktiengesellschaft, which came to the conclusion that the Tribunal’s financial statements were in accordance with the financial regulations and rules of the Tribunal, and gave a true and fair view of the assets, financial position and results of operations of the Tribunal.  The auditor also noted that the accounting principles were applied on a basis consistent with that of the preceding financial period and that transactions were in accordance with relevant regulations and rules.


The States Parties will also take up the Tribunal’s proposal that the Meeting consider an adjustment to the annual remuneration of the members of the Tribunal to bring it in line with the emoluments of the members of the International Court of Justice following their recent revision by the General Assembly.  The report on the conditions of service and compensation for the members of the Tribunal (document SPLOS/194) includes a recommendation that the Meeting be invited to make the adjustment effective from 1 January 2009.  A draft decision on the adjustment of the remuneration of members of the Tribunal is contained in annex II of the report.


Should the States Parties approve, effective 1 January 2009, a revision of the annual net base salary of judges to $161,681, with a corresponding post adjustment multiplier equal to 1 per cent of the salary, the remuneration of judges would increase by an average of 7.12 per cent compared with that calculated under the current floor/ceiling mechanism.  A post adjustment multiplier for Hamburg, Germany, would be applied to the net base salary.  To cover the increases in annual and special allowances for members of the Tribunal and compensation for judges for the period from January 2009 to December 2010, an additional appropriation of €276,600 would be required.  For this purpose, it is proposed that the Tribunal be authorized to use part of the cash surplus from the 2007-2008 budget.  The report also discusses proposed changes to the pension scheme for the members of the Tribunal.


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For information media • not an official record