States Parties to Convention on Law of the Sea Open Twentieth Session with Call for Universal Accession, Election of Bureau Members

14 June 2010

States Parties to Convention on Law of the Sea Open Twentieth Session with Call for Universal Accession, Election of Bureau Members

14 June 2010
Meetings Coverage
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Meeting of States Parties

to Law of Sea Convention

134th & 135th Meetings (AM & PM)

States Parties to Convention on Law of the Sea Open Twentieth Session


with Call for Universal Accession, Election of Bureau Members


The twentieth Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea opened today with a call for universal accession to that treaty, the election of several members of its Bureau and the adoption of the session’s provisional agenda.

Following his election, by acclamation, as President of the Meeting, Arif Havas Oegroseno ( Indonesia) said that, with the number of States parties to the Convention, including the European Union, having reached 160, the international community and individual States would benefit from a strong, universally accepted and implemented international legal regime applicable to the oceans.  It was essential to maintaining international peace and security, to sustainable use of ocean resources, and to the navigation and protection of the marine environment, he added, noting that, “Our oceans:  opportunities and challenges” — the theme of this year’s World Oceans Day, celebrated on 8 June — was important in the context of the Meeting’s deliberations.

The Meeting, scheduled to run through 18 June, will focus, among other things, on the workload of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as it continued to examine submissions by coastal States for the delineation of the continental shelf.  (For summaries of key documents before the meeting, see Press Release SEA/1938.)

Often known as the “constitution of the oceans”, the landmark Convention was adopted on 10 December 1982 and entered into force on 16 November 1994.  Its 320 articles and nine annexes govern all aspects of ocean space and maritime issues, from navigational rights, maritime limits and marine scientific research to the management of resources, protection of the marine environment and settlement of disputes.

Patricia O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, said the number of States parties to the Convention would continue to grow and that the Meeting provided an opportunity to keep abreast of recent developments in the work of the three bodies established by the Convention — the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the International Seabed Authority.

She urged States parties to find a “cogent and viable solution” to the Commission’s increased workload, and to work full-time to consider and qualify the large number of submissions expeditiously.  States Parties should give due consideration to the matter, renew their commitment to the Convention’s goals, and continue their efforts to ensure its effective implementation nationally.

José Luis Jesus, President of the Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, presented that body’s 2009 annual report (document SPLOS/204), of which the Meeting took note, saying that the Dominican Republic and Chad had ratified the Convention since the nineteenth Meeting.  Of the 160 States parties, 43 had made declarations on the procedure for settling disputes over interpretation or application of the Convention.  Of those, 29, most recently Switzerland and Angola, had selected the Tribunal to resolve disputes.

Summarizing the report’s main points, he said that, during its two session in 2009, the Tribunal had considered certain legal and judicial matters of relevance to its jurisdiction, rules and judicial procedures, as well as organizational and administrative matters.  One of its Special Chambers formed to deal with a dispute between Chile and the European Union concerning the conservation and sustainable exploitation of swordfish stocks in the South-Eastern Pacific Ocean had met on 15 and 16 December 2009.  The parties had reported that they had negotiated a solution to their dispute in 2009, and requested that the Special Chamber dismiss the case, which it had done through an order on 16 December 2009.

Mr. Jesus said the Tribunal had also received two new cases in the last six months.  On 14 December 2009, it had started proceedings concerning a dispute over the delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal.  On 12 February 2010, the Tribunal President had appointed three arbitrators in proceedings instituted under Annex VII to the Convention with a view to settling that dispute, on the basis of a request made in a 13 December 2009 letter by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh.

On 18 May 2010, he continued, the Tribunal’s Seabed Disputes Chamber had set 14 September as the date for opening hearings on the first ever advisory case before that Chamber.  The case had been opened after the International Seabed Authority had requested the Tribunal to give an advisory opinion on “The responsibilities and obligations of States sponsoring persons and entities with respect to activities in the international seabed area”.

Furthermore, the Tribunal had adopted the terms of reference (document SPLOS/205) to set up a voluntary trust fund for training in the law-of-the-sea and maritime fields, he said.  The fund would provide financial aid for participants from developing countries to take part in the Tribunal’s internship programmes and Summer Academy.

Following that statement, several representatives thanked the Tribunal for a “comprehensive and useful” report and took note of the training and capacity-building activities aimed at raising awareness of the Tribunal’s work and role in interpreting and applying the Convention.  The representative of the Republic of Korea said that, while the submitted cases mentioned in the report represented a step forward, it was necessary to publicize the Tribunal’s work in order to encourage States to make use of it in adjudicating maritime disputes.

South Africa’s representative emphasized the importance of regional sessions that would allow broader access to information on the Tribunal while fostering countries’ confidence in submitting cases, noting that submitting disputes was “far more cost-effective” than engaging in arbitration.  Many representatives said that requests for the Tribunal to issue advisory opinions was a positive trend, and urged States to submit more of them.

Spain’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, addressed the dispute between Chile and the regional body, highlighting efforts by both parties to reach a settlement, and welcoming the order adopted by the Special Chamber to remove the case.  Chile’s representative thanked the President for the Tribunal’s efforts while the case had been before it.

Myanmar’s representative said that, in light of its maritime boundary delimitation case with Bangladesh, the Tribunal was the best forum in which to settle such an issue peacefully, and expressed hope that it would produce “a fair solution to settle a long-term problem”.

The Meeting also took note of information presented by Nii Allotey Odunton, its Secretary-General, on the International Seabed Authority.  He said the Authority’s session in late April and May had made significant progress on many outstanding issues.  Notably, its Council had adopted, and its Assembly had approved, the Regulations for Prospecting and Exploration for Polymetallic Sulphides, as well as a resolution addressing the difficult issue of how to resolve overlapping claims.  “The result, I believe, is a set of regulations that is both balanced and progressive, and most importantly, ensures effective protection of the marine environment,” he said.

He went on to say that the regulations permitted qualified entities to obtain 15-year exploration licences over prospective areas that were reasonable in size, and to provide an incentive for future commercial operation without resulting in the monopolization of known resources.  The environmental provisions of the regulations had been strengthened to make explicit reference to the need to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, in line with relevant General Assembly resolutions, he noted.  Moreover, in recognition of the uncertainty surrounding knowledge of resources and the environmental impact of future sulphide mining, the regulations included a clause requiring the Council to review that matter in five years.

Mr. Odunton said that, following the adoption of the regulations, the China Ocean Minerals Resources Research and Development Association had submitted the first application for an exploration licence, concerning the area on the South-west Indian Ridge.  The Legal and Technical Commission would consider the submission at its next meeting in 2011.

Following Mr. Odunton’s statement, delegates from India, Mexico, China, France, Argentina, and Trinidad and Tobago lauded the adoption of the regulations, as well as those related to cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts.  They said the regulations would provide a critical framework for the future and complement the progressive development of regulatory regimes governing activities in the area.  They also supported the Tribunal’s Seabed Disputes Chamber in its efforts to provide an advisory opinion under article 191 of the Convention, on important legal issues concerning deep seabed mining.

Brazil’s representative said the Authority should also address practical issues arising from implementation of article 82.  In particular, it should devise a scheme to distribute potential payments and contributions from the production of resources from the outer continental shelf.  In the context of the Authority’s legal and technical committee, the annual reports submitted by contractors revealed the existence of significant spatial and temporal variations in the environment.  That required that sufficient data be gathered before starting mining activities so that adequate evaluation of anthropogenic impacts could be conducted.

Fiji’s representative said the lesson from the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was that there was no room for complacency or delay in collective efforts to protect the marine environment.

Alexandre Tagore Medeiros de Albuquerque, Chairman of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, discussed the practical difficulties of managing the increasing number of submissions, noting that it would not complete the 51 submissions and 43 sets of preliminary information received from coastal States until 2030, assuming that four sessions were required for each submission and that no more than three subcomissions could work simultaneously.  That timeline excluded consideration of new or revised submissions, those from States for which the deadline had not already passed, those from new States parties, those in disputed areas, and those stemming from the 43 sets of preliminary information.

The large number of submissions, their size and high scientific and technical complexity greatly impacted the Commission’s work, he continued, recalling that two proposals previously put forward to the Meeting had not received support.  To address workload challenges, the Commission had extended to the maximum the work weeks in New York and in the home countries.  On four separate occasions since 2008, it had also invoked an exception provision in Rule 51 4bis in order to set up a fourth subcommission to consider submissions from Mexico, Indonesia, Japan and Suriname.  However, he warned that, without more funding, the most important suggestions made in March by the Informal Working Group created in 2009 to address the Commission’s increased workload, could not be implemented.

Eden Charles ( Trinidad and Tobago), coordinator of that working group, said the need for financing to keep pace with the growing number of submissions should be addressed as a matter of priority.  As of 31 May, the working group had held eight meetings and set up a group called “Friends of the Coordinator”, which met several times.

Several delegates then took the floor to underscore the importance of expediting the Commission’s work and improving working conditions.  They expressed support for several practical suggestions as to how to do that, and voiced their readiness to work with the Commission to resolve them.  Japan’s representation announced that her Government would contribute $280,000 to the trust fund set up to help developing countries with their submissions.

Also during the Meeting, States parties were divided over whether to include a proposal by the Republic of Korea to include on the agenda an item entitled “International Seabed Area as the common heritage of mankind and article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”.  China’s representative reiterated the decision made at the nineteenth Meeting, which concluded that the item should be considered at a future Meeting.

The representatives of Brazil, Spain and Argentina responded by stating that the Meeting should follow the current provisional agenda, but requested it to address earlier than scheduled item 10 on the Commission’s workload and information reported by its Chairman.  Nicaragua’s representative said she was flexible on the timing.

Following that discussion, the Commission adopted the provisional agenda.

The meeting also elected the following Vice-Presidents:  Oana Florescu ( Romania); Eden Charles ( Trinidad and Tobago); and Namira Nabil Negam ( Egypt).  It deferred until later in the week the election of a Vice-President from the Western European and Other States Group, as well as the appointment of States parties to its Credentials Committee.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Germany, Indonesia, Tunisia, Viet Nam, Pakistan, Philippines, Morocco, Nigeria, Cuba, Japan, Malaysia, Russian Federation, Indonesia, Spain, Uruguay and New Zealand.

The States parties will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, 15 June, to continue the twentieth Meeting.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.