United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) | IAS Target IAS Target

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) also known as the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty is the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III). The law of the Sea Convention defines the responsibilities and rights of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for the environment, businesses, and the management of marine natural resources.

The Convention concluded in 1982. UNCLOS came into existence in 1994. It is uncertain as to what extent the Convention codifies customary international law. The UN provides assistance for meetings of states party to the Convention; the UN has no direct operational role in the implementation of the Convention. There is, however, a role played by organizations such as the International Maritime Organization, the International Whaling Commission, and the International Seabed Authority (ISA). (The ISA was created by the UN Convention).

Membership 167 countries including EU
Signed 10 December 1982
Location Montego Bay, Jamaica
Languages Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish

1st conference of UNCLOS resulted in four treaties concluded in 1958:
  • Convention on the High Seas, entry into force
  • Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone
  • Convention on the Continental Shelf, entry into force
  • Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas, entry into force
2nd conference of UNCLOS in 1960
3rd conference of UNCLOS in 1967.

The most major issues covered were setting limits, navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, Contiguous zone, Territorial waters, Internal waters, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), continental shelf jurisdiction, deep seabed mining, the exploitation regime, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of disputes. The convention set the limit of various areas, measured from a carefully defined baseline.
Aside from its provisions defining ocean boundaries, the convention establishes general obligations for protecting the marine environment and freedom of scientific research on the high seas and also creates an innovative legal regime for controlling mineral resource exploitation in deep seabed areas beyond national jurisdiction, through an International Seabed Authority and the Common heritage of mankind principle. Landlocked states are given a right of access to and from the sea, without taxation of traffic through transit states.

Part XI and the 1994 Agreement Part XI of the Convention provides for a regime relating to minerals on the seabed outside any state's territorial waters or EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zones). It institutes an International Seabed Authority (ISA) to authorize seabed exploration and mining and collect and distribute the seabed mining royalty.
Part XII – Protecting the Marine Environment Part XII of UNCLOS holds special provisions for the protection of the marine environment, obligating all States to collaborate in this matter, as well as placing special obligations on flag States to ensure that ships under their flags adhere to international environmental regulations, often adopted by the IMO. The MARPOL Convention is an illustration of such regulation.
Part XII Part XII also bestows coastal and port States with broadened jurisdictional rights for enforcing international environmental regulation within their territory and on the high seas.

Biodiversity beyond National Jurisdiction

In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted to arrange an intergovernmental conference (IGC) to consider establishing an international legally-binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). Over a series of four sessions between 2018 and 2020, the IGC will convene for negotiations towards a BBNJ treaty.