Adopting Drafts on Managing World’s Oceans, General Assembly Declares 2 May World Tuna Day, Urges Accounting for Climate Risks to Sustainable Fisheries

GA/11869
7 December 2016
Seventy-first Session, 54th & 55th Meetings (AM & PM)

Adopting Drafts on Managing World’s Oceans, General Assembly Declares 2 May World Tuna Day, Urges Accounting for Climate Risks to Sustainable Fisheries

Adopting two resolutions related to the conservation and management of the Earth’s oceans, the General Assembly today proclaimed 2 May World Tuna Day, spotlighting the vital socioeconomic importance of the widely consumed fish to peoples around the globe.

By the terms of the text, which was introduced by the representative of Palau on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, and adopted without a vote, the 193-member body committed to raise global awareness of tuna’s critical role in the food security and economic livelihoods of many countries and of the serious threats facing its long-term sustainability.

A second resolution, on sustainable fisheries, was also adopted without a vote and was introduced by the representative of Norway.  By its terms, the Assembly called upon Member States to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 14 on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and maritime resources.  The Assembly also called on Member States to apply a “precautionary approach” to the conservation, management and exploitation of fish stocks and to take into account the risks and impacts of climate change.

The Assembly postponed action on a related resolution, titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea”, pending consideration by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).  That draft was introduced by the representative of South Africa today.

“Our beloved ocean is in peril,” warned Assembly President Peter Thomson (Fiji) at the meeting’s outset.  The overexploitation of fish stocks and pollution from fertilizers, plastics and waste were threatening its resources, while climate change was exerting enormous pressure on the world’s ocean and marine ecosystems.  Rising sea levels, ocean acidification and increasing deoxygenation were exacerbating those challenges, he said, underlining the Assembly’s central role in protecting the ocean and its resources.

Throughout the meeting, many delegates welcomed widespread adherence by States to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1995 Agreement for the implementation of its provisions related to fish stocks.  Among other things, speakers commended the increasingly wide-ranging work of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which had celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2016, and spotlighted recent multilateral progress towards the elaboration of an international instrument protecting marine biodiversity beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

In that vein, the representative of the Federated States of Micronesia, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, recalled that the first and second sessions of the Preparatory Committee on an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction, established by Assembly resolution 69/292, had been held in 2016, yielding productive discussions and progress.  Nevertheless, she expressed dismay that such progress could not be welcomed within the context of today’s resolutions.

Speakers expressed a range of concerns, with some island States outlining the deep ties between their peoples and the world’s waterways.  “The strong social and cultural ties we have with the ocean form a part of our unique identity,” said the representative of Maldives.  Rising water temperatures, coral bleaching, ocean acidification and the deterioration of the marine environment affected fisheries and tourism, Maldives’ two largest industries.  Small island States recognized the value and significance of the oceans, but some, including Maldives, continued to fall victim to illegal fishing throughout its exclusive economic zones, resulting in significant economic losses.

Monaco’s representative was among those speakers expressing support for the upcoming United Nations conference in support of the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, slated for 2017.  Noting that oceans and seas had to date been relatively marginal to international climate change negotiations, she said the 2015 launch of the Ocean and Climate Platform had led to the oceans being clearly reflected in the Paris Agreement.

Also addressing the Assembly today was Vladimir Golitsyn, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and Nii Allotey Odunton, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority.  The former described the wide array of matters currently before the Tribunal, including several maritime delimitation cases, while the latter described the Authority’s work in such areas as formulating a framework for the exploitation of minerals.

Prior to the adoptions, a number of delegates took the floor to explain their positions.  The representatives of several States who were not parties to the Convention on the Law of the Sea stressed that their participation in today’s consensus must not be interpreted as acceptance of that instrument, while others expressed particular reservations to the texts.

Before the Assembly for its discussion was a report of the Secretary-General titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea” (document A/71/74) and its addendum (document A/71/74/Add.1); a report on the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole on the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects (document A/71/362); and a report on the work of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea at its seventeenth meeting (document A/71/204).

In addition, the Assembly had before it a report of the Secretary-General titled “Actions taken by States and regional fisheries management organizations and arrangements in response to paragraphs 113, 117 and 119 to 124 of General Assembly resolution 64/72 and paragraphs 121, 126, 129, 130 and 132 to 134 of General Assembly resolution 66/68 on sustainable fisheries, addressing the impacts of bottom fishing on vulnerable marine ecosystems and the long-term sustainability of deep-sea fish stocks” (document A/71/351).

Delivering statements today were the representatives of Zambia (on behalf of Landlocked Developing Countries), Australia, Peru, Jamaica, Singapore, United States, Colombia, Argentina, Japan, Viet Nam, Ukraine, India, Philippines, China, Croatia, Iceland, Fiji, Paraguay, Mexico, Russian Federation, Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela and Turkey, as well as the European Union.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 8 December, to consider its agenda item on strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance.

Opening Remarks

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, said the ocean was the lifeblood of the planet, with billions of people depending on it for their livelihoods and food security.  “Our beloved ocean is in peril,” he said.  The overexploitation of fish stocks and pollution from fertilizers, plastics and waste were threatening its resources, while climate change was exerting enormous pressure on the world’s ocean and marine ecosystems.  Rising sea levels, ocean acidification and increasing deoxygenation were exacerbating those challenges.  The 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goal 14 aimed at conserving and driving the sustainable use of the ocean, seas and marine resources.  Goal 14 pursued urgent action to reverse the cycle of decline in which the ocean was currently caught up in.  The General Assembly had a central role to play, particularly in protecting the ocean and its resources.

Today’s resolutions were essential in that regard, he said, welcoming the texts’ focus on important broad-ranging issues related to the ocean and Law of the Sea.  That included capacity building, the peaceful settlement of disputes, maritime safety and security and the protection of refugees and migrants at sea.  The resolution on sustainable fisheries highlighted the nexus between that issue and food security and poverty reduction, stating that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing constituted a serious threat to fish stocks, marine habitats and ecosystems.  Furthermore, the text to be adopted declaring 2 May annual World Tuna Day was an important step in recognizing the critical role of tuna to sustainable development and food security.

Introduction of Draft Resolutions

The representative of Norway, introducing the draft resolution titled “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments” (document A/71/L.24), said the text was a further step in the conservation and management of fisheries.  Consultations leading to the current draft had considered the impacts of bottom fishing on vulnerable marine ecosystems and the long-term sustainability of deep sea fish stocks.  Delegations had agreed on new provisions to enhance regulations of bottom fishing activities.  In addition, the draft encouraged necessary measures, where appropriate and consistent with international law, in order to prevent and deter vessels without nationality from engaging in or supporting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

By the terms of the text, the Assembly would call upon States that had not done so to become parties to the Fish Stocks Convention, in order to achieve the goal of universal participation.  Calling upon States to implement the Sustainable Development Goals as laid out in the 2030 Agenda, and urging them to take into account the special requirements of developing States, including small island developing States, it would also make a number of recommendations regarding related fisheries instruments, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, monitoring, control and surveillance and compliance and enforcement, fishing overcapacity and other issues.

He then turned to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which played an important role in the peaceful, responsible and predictable management of oceans and seas.  Norway was pleased to be able to make a contribution to the Voluntary trust fund for the purpose of defraying the cost of participation of the members of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf from developing States in the meetings of the Commission, and encouraged other States to consider doing the same.

The representative of South Africa introduced the draft resolution titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea” (document A/71/L.26), which recognized the important contribution of sustainable development and management of the resources and uses of the oceans and seas for the achievement of international development goals.  The text divided its action into several subcategories ranging from implementation of the Convention and related agreements and instruments to peaceful settlements of disputes.  By its terms, the Assembly would urge all States to cooperate, directly or through competent international bodies, in taking measures to protect and preserve objects of an archaeological and historical nature found at sea, in conformity with the Convention.  It would also urge all States to actively combat piracy and armed robbery at sea.

The text would further have the Assembly call upon States to implement the targets outlined in the 2030 Agenda, including Goal 14, to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.  Among other things, the Assembly would urge States to take necessary action and to cooperate in relevant organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), to address damage to ocean data buoys deployed and operated in accordance with international law.  By other terms of the text, the Assembly would urge States, international financial institutions, donor agencies, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to make financial contributions to the Voluntary trust fund for the purpose of assisting developing countries, in particular the least developed countries, land-locked developing countries and small island developing States, in attending the meetings of the preparatory committee and an intergovernmental conference on the development of an international legally-binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The representative of Palau introduced the draft resolution titled “World Tuna Day” (document A/71/L.27) on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, noting that the text underscored tuna’s critical importance in the socioeconomic welfare of many States.  By the terms of the text, the Assembly would designate 2 May as World Tuna Day, which was intended to create global awareness of the value and importance of tuna around the world.  Noting that some 256 million cases of tuna were consumed annually, amounting to $7.5 billion, he said tuna had served as an important source of food for people across the Pacific islands for centuries.  However, tuna faced serious challenges to their long-term sustainability, as there were more hooks and nets set for tuna than for any other group of fish.  To preserve healthy populations of tuna in the future, efforts needed to be strengthened to end overfishing and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

He then delivered a statement on the agenda items before the Assembly, stressing that the ocean was the lifeblood of the Pacific economies and societies.  However, its States were facing a number of challenges, including overfishing, the destruction of marine habitats and climate change consequences.  The Pacific Small Island Developing States had been at the forefront of advocating for the inclusion of a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and seas.  Noting that the 2017 Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and Law of the Sea would bring focused attention to the issue of climate change and oceans, he acknowledged the contribution of the International Seabed Authority and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf voluntary trust fund for their ongoing work to support developing countries.  He also underscored the importance of healthy fisheries to economies and livelihoods around the world, emphasizing that the Pacific had been a leader in fisheries management and monitoring.

Statements

JOANNE ADAMSON, European Union delegation, emphasized the need to enhance the role of ocean governance in preserving and protecting the marine environment and ensuring sustainable development.  The 2030 Agenda recognized the importance of oceans and their resources, she said, underscoring the need for responsible decision-making at all levels to conserve and sustainably use ocean, sea and marine resources.  Achieving Goal 14 was crucial to countering major threats facing the marine environment, including climate change, debris such as plastics and microplastics, overfishing and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.  Climate change also adversely affected oceans and their ecosystems, which translated into social and economic consequences, particularly in developing countries.

She urged parties to implement their obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change and called on those States that had not yet done so to become party to the instrument.  Doing so would allow everyone to work together in a coordinated manner to tackle one of the major threats to oceans and life on Earth.  Turning to L.24, she expressed support for the conservation and management of highly migratory fish stocks.  It was important to agree on a number of issues such as the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and vessels without nationality.  While recognizing that States, individually and through regional fisheries bodies, had undertaken necessary measures to implement the provisions of relevant resolutions, implementation had not been sufficient in all cases and areas.  More and better science and more stringent implementation of measures were necessary if vulnerable marine ecosystem could be protected from such bottom fishing activities.

KASWAMU KATOTA (Zambia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, underlined the pressing need to protect and conserve the seas and oceans.  The Convention on the Law of the Sea granted rights to landlocked States to utilize the oceans, seas and marine resources and more than half of the 32 landlocked developing countries were currently party to that instrument.  However, implementation of provisions remained quite minimal.  Their limited participation stemmed from financial and technical resource constraints, lack of awareness and ratification, lack of appropriate technologies and limited access to the sea.  Some of the tools they needed were well captured in resolutions being considered today, including capacity-building in understanding the rights and obligations in the Convention to fully implement it and benefit from the sustainable use of the oceans and seas.

He said landlocked developing countries also required technical support to be able to participate fully in global and regional forums on ocean affairs and the Law of the Sea.  Technology transfers were essential to build the capacity in marine science research in order to enable their full participation and financial support was necessary to enable them to participate in activities related to the Convention’s implementation.  He called on partners, regional and international organizations to recognize the particular challenges those States faced in implementing the Convention and other regional and international agreements related to the use and conservation of the oceans and the seas.

JANE CHIGIYAL (Federated States of Micronesia), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said that Convention on the Law of the Sea remained of vital strategic importance as the basis for action and cooperation and should continue to be reflected in the oceans omnibus resolution, L.26.  Two meetings in 2016 of the Preparatory Committee on an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction, established by General Assembly resolution 69/292, had yielded productive discussions and progress.  She expressed dismay, however, that the progress that had been achieved could not be welcomed within the context of L.26.  The informal consultative process to examine the issue of marine debris, plastics and microplastics had been held in June, she said, commending the report of the co-chairs and the renewed mandate for the process to focus, in 2017, on the interaction of oceans and climate change.

She went on to note that Fiji and Sweden would co-host, in 2017, the United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14.  The Conference’s success depended on partnership dialogues, she said, calling on all stakeholders to contribute to that achievement and further the agenda by committing themselves to fully implementing Goal 14.  Everyone must accelerate and strengthen commitments already undertaken and put new ones on the table, she stressed.

CAITLIN WILSON (Australia) welcomed the continued recognition of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, saying it set out the legal framework for all related activities.  It was of central strategic importance as the basis for national, regional and global action and cooperation in the marine sector and underpinned trade between States while supporting economic growth.  As one of the most widely subscribed agreements in modern history, it was vital to preserve the Convention’s integrity.  Drawing attention to the text on illicit wildlife trafficking in the context of oceans omnibus draft resolution, she said that it recognized the seriousness of the problem and the need for enhanced cooperation and coordination.  It also included a reference to the vital role played by coastal blue carbon ecosystems in climate adaptation and mitigation.  Such systems were some of the most threatened in the world, she said, underscoring the urgent need to protect and restore them.  For its part, Australia had established an international partnership for blue carbon, and announced a new plan of action for an international coral reef initiative.

ISMAIL RAUSHAN ZAHIR (Maldives) said increases in water temperatures, coral bleaching, ocean acidification and the deterioration of the marine environment affected fisheries and tourism, his country’s two largest industries.  Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear was a significant cross-border issue, he said, calling for collective action.  Ocean plastic pollution and marine littering because of incompetent waste management created equally harmful risks, he added, noting that Maldives had begun to address that issue.  Small island States recognized the value and significance of the oceans.  “The strong social and cultural ties we have with the ocean form a part of our unique identity,” he said.  In line with the 2030 Agenda, Maldives had designated 42 marine protected areas, undertaken extensive efforts to restore coral reefs and was recognized as a global leader in sustainable fisheries.  However, because of capacity and resource constraints, it continued to fall victim to illegal fishing throughout its exclusive economic zones, resulting in losses greater than $600 million and setting back protection efforts.  The oceans and their resources formed an interconnected ecosystem and approaches towards ensuring their preservation must reflect that reality, he stressed.

ISABELLE PICCO (Monaco) said healthy oceans and seas were indispensable for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Monaco would contribute to the preparations for and the holding of next year’s United Nations conference in support of the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14.  Describing Prince Albert II’s personal commitment to those issues, she said oceans and seas had to date been relatively marginal to international climate change negotiations.  The launch of the Ocean and Climate Platform 2015 had led to the oceans being clearly reflected in the Paris Agreement.  Turning to plastic waste in the oceans, she recalled that at the recent Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Marrakesh, Prince Albert II had joined others in signing a declaration of intent to launch an international coalition to reduce plastic waste at sea.  In that regard, Monaco had also decided to ban single-use plastic bags by 2020.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) outlined a commitment to the 2030 Agenda and Goal 14 in particular, said a broad, multisectoral approach was needed to protect the world’s oceans and seas.  Noting that L.26 referred explicitly to the effects of climate change, he said Peru had signed and ratified the Paris Agreement.  Peruvian waters contributed to global food security, he said, noting that Peru recognized the fragile nature of oceans and had therefore been one of the first countries to promote the establishment of rules to eliminate subsidies to fisheries, which contributed to overfishing and overexploitation.  Welcoming each of the draft resolutions before the General Assembly, he expressed Peru’s commitment to all Assembly processes relating to the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica) expressing a commitment, as host of the International Seabed Authority, to the work of preserving and protecting the environmental integrity of the deep seabed, said that given the scientific and technological advances that had been made since the adoption of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, it was imperative to examine the framework for governing marine resources.  Going forward, the International Seabed Authority should feature in any new regime.  Overfishing, pollution and climate change represented real dangers to Jamaica’s marine environment and economic viability, he said, emphasizing the necessity of ensuring the representation of developing countries in the work of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore) said the Convention on the Law of the Sea was one of the most important international conventions in existence.  Hence, it was important to achieve and sustain coherence within and across the different processes.  Singapore was committed to contributing constructively to the work of the International Seabed Authority in safeguarding the common heritage of humanity.  He welcomed the opportunity to reflect on the science of and challenges posed by microplastics, the importance of prioritizing prevention and adopting an integrated approach to the management of activities.  International work on ocean issues must continue to be informed by research and information.  Stakeholders often had a limited view of the ocean that was focused on their own sectoral interests.  With regard to implementing Goal 14, he remained confident that the United Nations would serve as a valuable platform for all stakeholders to galvanize the international community into action.

LARRY M. DINGER (United States) said the ocean was in trouble, with over 30 per cent of its assessed fish stocks being overfished and 60 per cent being harvested at the maximum sustainable level alongside rising acidity levels and temperatures.  The 2017 Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea should address the link between climate change and oceans.  The damage caused by the ocean’s absorption of excess carbon dioxide and heat was already undermining marine ecosystems and coastal communities.  Without additional action to limit greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures, sea levels could rise up to two or three feet by the end of the century, he said, noting that many species were already moving in search of cooler waters, jeopardizing fishing economies and more than 3 billion people who relied on seafood for protein.  The goals countries had committed to in the Paris Agreement provided a path forward.  Following a productive year at the United Nations for promoting sustainable fisheries and issues relating to conservation, there was widespread recognition that progress had been made on bottom fishing and preventing adverse impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems.  However, progress remained uneven.  While L.24 contained important new or revised language, the United States firmly considered that the remaining historical references to the Doha Development Agenda and to the Doha and Hong Kong ministerial mandates in the draft resolution had no standing and did not serve as a precedent for future negotiated documents, he said, emphasizing that Goal 14 must be implemented.

CARLOS ARTURO MORALES LÓPEZ (Colombia) said the health of the oceans depended on both national and international action.  For its part, Colombia had established a solid set of institutions guided by a comprehensive vision.  However, L.26 had been formulated based on the Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which Colombia was not a party and whose provisions could not be applied to it.  Indeed, L.26 could not be considered or interpreted in any way that would imply Colombia’s acceptance of the Convention’s provisions.

MATEO ESTREME (Argentina) underscored the need to respect the delicate balance created by the Convention on the Law of the Sea, including on issues of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.  He stressed the need to define the parameters for any future agreement in that area prior to the start of negotiations.  In that regard, due account should be taken of the Convention’s assertion that such resources were the “common heritage” of the whole of humanity and that their exploration and exploitation should benefit all people.  Noting that combating the illicit trafficking of threatened marine species required adherence to the norms of international law, he also welcomed the long and arduous work of the Committee on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and emphasized the need to provide it with all necessary resources.  On L.24, he stressed the need to move negotiations forward on the basis of consensus.  Noting that the conservation and management of the continental shelf were under the exclusive purview of coastal States, he said Argentina had adopted measures to protect vulnerable ecosystems across its continental shelf.  Today’s draft resolutions could not be interpreted in any way that ran contrary to such sovereign rights, he said, expressing concern over attempts to legitimize the actions of groups of States, some of which were trying to regulate marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction when no relevant instrument was yet in place.

TAKASHI AKAHORI (Japan) said the sea provided his country with food and trade routes with all countries.  In regard to disputes, States must make and clarify their claims based on international law and must not use force or coercion in trying to drive their claims.  He welcomed the role of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the International Seabed Authority in implementing a mandate to build a maritime legal order.  A balanced approach to the exploitation of the deep seabed was needed, he added, emphasizing the need to strike a reasonable balance between exploitation and the environment.  As a country that benefitted from maritime trade, Japan believed it was vital to respond to piracy and armed robbery that endangered sea lanes.  As part of those efforts, it had deployed its Self-Defence Forces on anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden continuously since 2009.  In Asia, it had contributed human and financial resources to the activities of combating piracy.  In an effort to provide seamless support to coastal States seeking to increase their capacity to strengthen maritime law enforcement, Japan had also provided official development assistance (ODA), defence equipment cooperation and capacity-building assistance.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam) said that as a coastal state, her country attached great importance to peace, stability and the sustainable development of the oceans and seas.  Viet Nam was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Convention on the Law of the Seas and had always adhered to its provisions.  It urged all nations to respect and fulfil their obligations to ensure peace, stability and sustainable development of the oceans.  The ocean was an invaluable gift of nature to humankind and it was humanity’s responsibility to preserve it for present and future generations.  However, recent complicated developments in some parts of the world, including the East Sea, had posed a threat to international peace, security and sustainable development.  She urged all parties concerned to exercise self-restraint, solve disputes by peaceful means, implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and expedite the completion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said the issue of the marine environment continued to be a matter of serious concern due to climate change, marine debris and overfishing.  While Ukraine remained committed to the implementation of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, that legal order had faced great challenges in Ukraine and its maritime areas.  With the occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and city of Sevastopol, Ukraine’s rights as a coastal State in maritime zones adjacent to Crimea in the Black Sea and Kerch Strait had been interfered and usurped by an aggressor State.  The north-eastern part of the Black Sea “had literally turned into a grey area” for international shipping, demonstrated by a number of marine casualties and incidents.  In September, Ukraine had officially served the Russian Federation with a notification of arbitration and statement of claim instituting ad hoc arbitral proceedings under the Convention to vindicate its rights as a coastal State in maritime zones adjacent to Crimea in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and Kerch Strait.  He also condemned incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea, transnational organized crime and terrorism in the maritime domain, trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and other maritime activities that threatened global stability and security.

KOTESWARA RAO MADIMI (India) highlighted that his country had a long maritime history and was located on one of the world’s major sea trading routes.  In that context, he underscored the use of ocean resources as a means of economic growth and social advancement and the importance of cooperation in the “blue economy”.  At the same time, it was important to carry out ocean-based activities in a sustainable manner in accordance with internationally agreed upon principles.  The deterioration of the marine environment, climate change, illegal fishing practices and acts of piracy were all major challenges.  On the latter subject, India had actively engaged with the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, which had made significant contributions in controlling that scourge in the western Indian Ocean.

LOURDES ORTIZ YPARRAGUIRRE (Philippines) said it was essential to enhance action to address marine pollution, including debris that compromised the health of oceans and biodiversity.  It was also important to neutralize, if not reverse, the adverse economic, social and environmental effects of the physical alteration and destruction of marine habitats.  She noted the need to enhance maritime safety and security and fight against piracy.  The Philippines called on all States who had not yet done so, to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Sea, as the instrument was key to ensuring global and regional peace in the sustainable use of the world’s oceans and its resources.  It also represented a delicate and careful balance of the rights and obligations of all States parties, large or small, rich or poor, coastal or landlocked.  She further emphasized the importance to the work of the International Seabed Authority in more equitably and more sustainably managing mineral-related activities.

WU HAITAO (China) called for strengthening international cooperation to realize the sustainable development of the oceans and seas.  China had put forward the initiatives to develop a “blue economy” and build a twenty-first century maritime Silk Road.  To maintain a fair and reasonable maritime order, all parties to the Convention must uphold its principles and avoid abusing its provisions, he said, calling for a more active role of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in that regard.  Noting the ongoing negotiations on an international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction, he said the new agreement must not compromise the rights of navigation, scientific research, fishing and mining that States enjoyed under the Convention.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) said tuna had been a precious commodity and food source for his country.  In 1994, Croatia had paid tribute to that fish by putting it on its two-kuna coin.  In fact, Croatia was the only country in the world, where tuna fish featured on the official currency.  Ancient tuna fishing tools could still be seen along the Croatian shores, he said, adding that such techniques were valuable reminders of the importance of pursuing sustainable practices.  Tuna fishing and farming formed a significant part of local economies in Croatia’s coastal communities and it was an important export product.  Given that tuna stocks were not infinite, it was critical to intensify global efforts to ensure their protection and conservation.  In that regard, he expressed hope that the newly proclaimed World Tuna Day would raise awareness on the importance and vulnerability of the species.

SESSELJA SIGURDARDOTTIR (Iceland) said it was essential to keep the oceans clean and the marine environment healthy.  At the United Nations, the amount of activities related to oceans and the Law of the Sea was a testament to the importance of the field.  The significance of the issue was further underscored by Goal 14, which addressed the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources.  Toward that end, seas and oceans had great potential for growth in a number of sectors and contributed to poverty eradication.  She stressed the importance of including oceans in the implementation of climate policies, noting that global warming had a direct impact on the oceans, resulting in rising sea levels and a changing distribution of fish stocks.  Within a few decades, summer in the Arctic could become ice-free, she warned, adding that orchestrated action in the field had never been more urgent.

LUKE DAUNIVALU (Fiji), associating himself with the Pacific Small Islands Developing States and the Pacific Islands Forum, called the Convention on the Law of the Sea a monumental achievement.  The ocean had inevitably become the lifeblood of Fiji’s economy and people.  Its increasing reliance on oceans as a key source of income and hence economic growth and development spoke volumes of Fiji’s active involvement in related issues.  Fiji and countries within its region faced vulnerabilities to rising sea levels, climate change, ocean acidification, marine pollution, depletion of fish stocks and the unpredictability of weather patterns.  The 2030 Agenda’s stand-alone goal on oceans was a path in the right direction, reflecting diverse approaches that had been taken to address the oceans issue.  He looked forward to several conferences to be held in 2017, particularly the high-level event to support the implementation of Goal 14, expressing hope that the event would be “a moment of truth” for the conservation of oceans.

ANA EDELMIRA RÓLON CANDIA (Paraguay), associating herself with the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said any action taken in the marine environment would eventually affect all countries, coastal or landlocked.  Urgent measures must guide conduct on seas and oceans.  With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the signing of the Paris Agreement, there had been progress, however, the challenge now was in their implementation.  It was critical to ensure Paraguay’s participation in international and regional forums to obtain the knowledge needed to implement various instruments.  Landlocked developing countries represented more than 16 per cent of the United Nations membership.  Most trade was carried out on the seas.  Paraguay had the third largest inland water vessels that connected to the sea.  Calling the Convention on the Law of the Sea one of the most important international instruments, she said it was a milestone that addressed the pertinent need to conserve oceans.  Yet, pressure on oceans had continued and that could seriously compromise future generations, she warned.

PABLO ADRÍAN ARROCHA OLABUENAGA (Mexico) said the Convention on the Law of the Sea provided sufficient elements to complement areas beyond national jurisdiction.  Ocean pollution and microplastics must be studied to better understand the effects of debris on marine life, he said, expressing concern at the lack of knowledge available on the issue.  Turning to the trafficking at sea, he welcomed references in various paragraphs of the drafts and emphasized the usefulness of various international conventions in place to fight the illegal trade of species.  Those measures could be an effective way of taking action.  For its part, Mexico was party to those conventions and would remain dedicated to fighting illegal trade at sea and to reducing the illegal trade of species in line with international laws and legal frameworks.

EVGENY T ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation), pointing to complex tasks in the International Seabed Authority, urged the international community to improve coordination and cooperation and to ensure its effectiveness.  The Russian Federation had conducted regular assessments of its marine environment based on scientific findings.  Maritime activity should not be constrained unless its negative effects were proven by facts, he said, expressing support for the adoption of L.24.  He went on to respond to the representative of Ukraine, saying his claims were not related to the current agenda item.  As a coastal State, the Russian Federation had sovereignty over its territory and exerted jurisdiction according to international law.

TANIERIS DIEGUEZ LAO O (Cuba), describing the Convention on the Law of the Sea as a milestone in promoting issues related to oceans, said it set out the legal framework and preserved the integrity on the matter.  Greater coherence and coordination was needed in efforts to protect oceans, she said, emphasizing that Cuba, for its part, had implemented a national strategy in order to protect its marine environment and successfully implement the Convention.  In addition, she drew attention to the management of maritime resources, noting that such efforts must be conducted in accordance with international law while respecting the jurisdiction of sovereign States.

CARLOS SERGIO SOBRAL DUARTE (Brazil) said today’s debate reflected the historic significance of the Convention on the Law of the Sea as an important contribution to the maintenance of peace, justice and progress.  L.24 contained important provisions that addressed critical issues such as combating ghost fishing and the importance of rebuilding stocks.  Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of marine genetic resources beyond national jurisdiction must be ensured, he said.  Due consideration must be given not only to the development of a mechanism for such sharing of benefits, but also to ensure access to those resources.  Promoting and facilitating access, in the natural environment through samples or data, would contribute to creating sustainable and long-term benefits.  It was also essential to enhance scientific understanding of the oceans to better protect the marine environment.  The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf had continued to face the challenge of proper participation of members of developing countries due to limited resources, he said, adding that 2015 had marked a turning point in regards to the Law of the Sea, particularly with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, including Goal 14.

NII ALLOTEY ODUNTON, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, said three new exploration contracts had been signed in 2016.  Two were for polymetallic nodules signed with the United Kingdom Seabed Resources Limited and the Cook Islands Investment Corporation, and the third plan of work for polymetallic sulphides had been signed with the Government of India.  Two remaining plans would be signed prior to the Authority’s twenty-third session in 2017.  Furthermore, the Council of the Authority, based on the recommendations of the Legal and Technical Commission, had approved six applications of contract extensions for exploration of polymetallic nodules for five years, he said, encouraging contractors to strengthen cooperation in the development of mining technology and pilot testing of deep-sea mining.

He said that as marine environmental protection was an equally important mandate, the Authority had requested all contractors to make their environmental data readily and publicly available.  The Authority would also convene three workshops related to environmental work, calling for the broadest participation of all concerned States parties, observers and stakeholders.  Following the Authority’s workshops on the taxonomic standardization of macro-, micro- and meiofauna, the contractors had begun to utilize those standards, thus enabling the Authority to obtain necessary information to protect the marine environment.

He said that as part of its work on the formulation of the exploitation framework of minerals, a total 45 submissions had been received on the zero draft of the exploitation regulation.  Drawing attention to the lack of comments that had been received, he urged developing States to get more involved.  Approximately 200 training opportunities would arise in the next five years as a result of exploration contracts.  Those opportunities included at-sea trainings, doctorate and master’s degree programmes, workshops, internships and fellowships, he said, expressing hope that they would enhance the capacity building of developing States in marine science and technology development and utilization and in the Law of the Sea and deep-sea mining regime.

VLADIMIR GOLITSYN, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, paid tribute to Judge Antonio Cachapuz de Madeiros of Brazil who had passed away in September, and announced that the election to fill his seat on the Tribunal would be held in June 2017.  Recalling that the Tribunal had marked its twentieth anniversary in 2016 and describing a number of recent commemorative events, he went on to outline the body’s judicial activity over the past year.  That had included the submission of a new case, known as M/V Norstar, brought by Panama against Italy, in which the latter had invoked the “non-existence of a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention” and other clauses.  Noting that the Tribunal had rejected all such objections to the Tribunal’s jurisdiction and the admissibility of application, he said the body had found Panama’s application to be admissible.  That judgement marked the completion of the case’s preliminary objections stage.

Turning to another pending case on the Tribunal’s docket, he said one concerning the delimitation of the maritime boundary between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean would have oral proceedings in February 2017.  Those two cases were a good illustration of a development which the Tribunal had seen over the years, namely that its case law had not only increased, but diversified.  The Tribunal had received a number of cases dealing with a wide range of matters under the Convention on the Law of the Sea, with a scope covering maritime delimitation, requests for the release of detained vessels, claims for damages arising from the alleged unlawful arrest of vessels, issues concerning the responsibilities and liabilities of States in respect of deep seabed mining as well as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.  Such issues had allowed the Tribunal to broaden and deepen its jurisprudence and establish itself as a key player in the dispute-settlement system under the Convention.

Action on Draft Resolutions

The Assembly then adopted two resolutions by consensus, one titled “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments” (document A/71/L.24) and another titled, “World Tuna Day” (document A/71/L.27).

The Assembly postponed action on draft resolution titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea” (document A/71/L.26) to an alternative date to allow time for the review of its programme budget implications.

The representative of Venezuela, in explanation of position, said that the Convention on the Law of the Sea should not be considered as the only legal framework, recalling other major agreements.  Venezuela was not a State party and the Convention did not apply to its domestic legislation, he said, expressing a reservation on the resolution.

The representative of Turkey disassociated himself from the text, as his country was not a State party to the Convention.

The representative of Colombia commended the high-level transparent discussions that had taken place and recognized the valuable contributions that had been made by L.24.  All nations had a commitment to make to protect oceans and its resources.  Oceans would have great bearing on the future sustainability of the world.  Colombia had initiatives in place recognizing the role of the ocean, seas and fisheries in all its work and programmes.  Colombia had joined the consensus on today’s draft.  However, the Convention on the Law of the Sea was not the sole normative framework that guided the sea and Colombia was not bound by its contents.

The representative of Argentina said it had joined today’s consensus, but noted again that none of the recommendations in that resolution could be interpreted as meaning that the provisions contained in relation to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks and related instruments were to be considered as mandatory for those States that had not expressly consented to be bound by such agreements.  Those recommendations could not be considered as enforceable to States that were not parties to related agreements.  Argentina reiterated that existing international law did not enable regional fisheries management organizations or their member States to take any action on ships whose flag States were not members of such organizations or arrangements.  Compliance with resolutions could not be claimed as a justification for ignoring or denying the rights established in the Convention.

For information media. Not an official record.