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Law of the sea disputes can now be heard in Singapore under signed agreement

[SINGAPORE] Disputes referred to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) or one of its chambers can now be held in Singapore, under an agreement signed on Thursday.

The model agreement sets out the terms and conditions to enable Itlos or one of its chambers to sit and exercise its functions in Singapore, the first country in the world to do so.

During a virtual ceremony conducted via video conferencing on Thursday, Itlos president Jin-Hyun Paik and Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam signed letters for the adoption of the model agreement.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Health, Edwin Tong, and Registrar of the tribunal, Ximena Hinrichs Oyarce, witnessed the signing.

Itlos signed the agreement at its headquarters in Hamburg, Germany, while Mr Shanmugam and Mr Tong were in Singapore.

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The virtual signing comes after a 2015 joint declaration between Singapore and Itlos, which expressed support for the country as a venue for the tribunal to carry out its functions.

Since then, several rounds of negotiations have been held between Singapore's Ministry of Law and the Registry of Itlos on the terms and conditions of the model agreement signed on Thursday.

Itlos is an independent judicial body that was established by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), to hear any dispute relating to Unclos.

It is headquartered in Hamburg, but has the ability to sit and exercise its function where it considers desirable.

On Thursday, Judge Paik thanked the Singapore government for its cooperation over the past few years.

He added that the model agreement sets out detailed arrangements, and states who wish to resolve their disputes through the tribunal or its chambers are "well-advised" to consider Singapore as a viable venue for proceedings.

"The proactive stance on the part of the tribunal to enter into such agreements is a testament to its capacity and willingness to swiftly adapt to ever-changing times whilst offering a flexible mechanism for the settlement of (law of the sea) disputes," said Judge Paik.

The tribunal is also adopting new methods using technology to operate effectively despite the current Covid-19 pandemic, he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore is honoured to have the opportunity to host Itlos hearings and contribute to the work of the tribunal.

"It reflects Singapore's position as a neutral location, as a strong proponent to the international rule of law framework, (and) commitment to peaceful settlement of disputes... We look forward to hosting cases in Singapore," he added.

Singapore became a party to Unclos in 1994.

There are currently 168 parties to Unclos, which comprise 167 states and the European Union.


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