The Business Times

Keeping tabs on new sea law a good move

International Chamber of Shipping wants to ensure that the interests of shipping are not unwittingly affected by new UN initiative on the conservation of marine life

Published Tue, Apr 5, 2016 · 09:50 PM

IT IS now nearly 22 years since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) came into effect. It was a major step forward in that it clarified the extent of a sovereign state's control of waters surrounding it, and was the culmination of discussions started in 1973.

Back in the 1960s, some states claimed territorial waters of just three nautical miles, other asserted rights extending 200 nautical miles from their coast, resulting in disputes and uncertainty. UNCLOS resolved these issues by allowing coastal states to benefit from the waters and seabed up to 200 nautical miles from the coast (or in some circumstances further out), but it also limited territorial waters to 12 nautical miles. It also enshrined the key concepts of right of innocent passage and right of transit through straits in international law.

Disputes over control of sea areas have not been eliminated, as any observer of the politics of the South China Sea will know only too well. But at least UNCLOS provides a framework within which claims can be judged.

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