Nautical Law: What is UNCLOS?

UNCLOS is an acronym for the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea. The convention is also sometimes referred to as the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty.

UNCLOS, as a law of the sea, came into operation and became effective from 16th November 1982.

However, the first time such a proposal was announced before the United Nations was in the year 1973. Over the course of nine years, with representations from over 160 countries coming forward, UNCLOS came into existence.

The background of UNCLOS covers can be explained in detail as follows:

UNCLOS Background

Before the nautical law of UNCLOS came into force, there existed a school of thought known as freedom-of-the-seas. This doctrine had first come into operation during the 17th century.

As per this law, there were no limits or boundaries set to the aspect of marine business and commercial activities.

Over the years and centuries as technology developed and the needs of the people across the world grew, there emerged a problem. Over-exploitation of the sea’s resources was immensely felt towards the middle of the 20th century and many nations started feeling the need to ensure the protection of their marine resources.

Starting with the United States in 1945, many countries across the world brought under their jurisdiction, the natural resources found on their oceans’ continental shelf.

Some of the countries that exercised this power were Argentina, Canada, Indonesia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and even countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia and Venezuela.

Since the usage of the marine reserves rose even more in the 1960s and since missile launch pads also starting getting based in the oceanic bed, it became imperative that a specific regulation be placed to ensure proper protection and jurisdiction of the marine reserves.

In 1967, the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea was convened. In this conference, the UN ambassador from Malta Mr Arvid Pardo requested a legal power that could bring about international governance over the oceanic floor and bed.

Such a legal power would also ensure that there would not be any problems arising between various countries over the oceanic floor and bed space.

In a major way, it was this UNCLOS III that paved the way for the now existing nautical law.

The features and highlights of the same can be explained as follows:

  • UNCLOS as the currently prevailing law of the sea is binding completely.
  • Even as the name of the nautical law suggests a United Nations’ involvement, the UN does not have any major functional role in the working of UNCLOS
  • There are 17 parts, 320 articles and nine annexes to UNCLOS
  • The law of the sea provides for full money rights to nations for a 200-mile zone by their shoreline. The sea and oceanic bed extending this area is regarded to be an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and any country can use these waters for its economic utilisation
  • The IMO (International Maritime Organisation) plays a vital role in the operation of UNCLOS. Along with the IMO, organisations like the International Whaling Commission and the International Seabed Authority are vital parties in the functional areas of the nautical law

Even though UNCLOS has 160 member parties, the US is a country that has still not sanctioned (ratified) the nautical law. The main reason for the US not sanctioning the law of the sea arises mainly because of its disagreement about Part XI of UNCLOS.

This part deals with the aspect of the minerals found on the seabed on the EEZ. The International Seabed Authority was established on the basis of this part of the nautical law and called for equitable distribution of the proceeds of such seabeds.

The US is opposed to this theory and that is why it has not ratified UNCLOS in spite of it being one of the most important members of the United Nations.

With the help of a nautical law like UNCLOS, it can be said that marine resources can be protected and safeguarded, especially in contemporary times where the need for marine resources’ protection has increased even more than it was during the 1960s and 70s.

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