Adopting Two Resolutions, General Assembly Speakers Stress That Healthy, Resilient Oceans, Seas Play Central Role in Achieving Sustainable Development Goals
The General Assembly today adopted two texts on the oceans and seas linked to the implementation of the landmark 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, with speakers asserting during the annual debate on the matter that healthy, productive, resilient oceans and seas are central to sustainable development.
By the terms of the draft resolution “Oceans and the law of the sea” (document number A/73/L.35) – adopted by a recorded vote of 121 in favour to 1 against (Turkey), with 3 abstentions (Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela) – the Assembly calls upon States that have not done so to become parties to the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It further calls upon States to harmonize their national legislation with the provisions of the Convention.
Singapore’s representative, who introduced the omnibus text, said the text covers a wide range of issues and takes stock of activities at the International Seabed Authority, including efforts on regulations for exploitation of mineral resources. “The resolution recognizes the needs of developing States in the context of making submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf,” he said, adding that it underscores the importance of work undertaken to elaborate an international legally binding instrument under the Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity.
The General Assembly – acting without a vote - also adopted the draft, “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments” (document A/73/L.41).
Through the terms of the text, the Assembly reaffirms the importance it attaches to the long-term conservation, management and sustainable use of the living marine resources of the world’s oceans and seas and the obligations of States to cooperate to this end. The Assembly also urges States to increase their reliance on scientific advice in developing, adopting and implementing conservation and management measures.
“This year’s draft resolution is a step forward in the conservation and management of fish stocks,” said Norway’s representative while introducing the draft. She noted that sustainable food from aquatic ecosystems plays an increasingly critical role in global food and nutrition security, adding that the draft addresses the sustainability of small-scale fisheries, the combating of illegal fishing and the issue of fishing overcapacity.
However, following the adoption of both drafts, representatives of countries not party to the Convention on the Law of the Sea voiced their opposition to references to that Convention in the draft resolutions. Among them was the representative of Turkey who had called for the vote on draft “L.35” and subsequently voted against it. The Convention, he stressed, “is neither universal nor has a unified character”.
The representative of Venezuela – who abstained in the vote – also noted that the Convention does not enjoy universal participation and should not be considered the only legal instrument governing the sea. There are other international instruments that could be applied, she pointed out.
Throughout the debate, speakers asserted the central role of healthy oceans and seas in the pursuit of development and the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Several delegations reaffirmed that the Convention on the Law of the Sea is the institutional framework of all activities in the oceans and seas.
The delegate of Tuvalu, speaking for the Pacific Small Island Developing States, underscored that healthy, productive and resilient oceans and seas are critical for poverty eradication, access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, economic development and ecosystem services. “There are two paths to development,” he observed. “One involves handouts. The other involves creating an enabling environment for sustainable economic activity. Only one of them is going to succeed.”
Echoing the concerns of small island developing States was the representative of Jamaica who, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that the fate of such States is integrally linked with the health of the ocean. While warning that collective international efforts have yielded mixed results, she pointed to regional efforts that have seen several CARICOM members States ban single-use plastics. As well, the bloc has joined several international instruments regulating the health of the seas and fishing practices.
For her part, the representative of Iceland said that through the resolutions, the General Assembly consistently highlights the universal and unified character of the Convention. “Sustainable management of natural resources is fundamental to our success,” she said. However, she warned that the impact of climate change is among the most pressing issues facing the international community.
Her concerns on the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems and biodiversity were shared by many Member States. A number of delegations voiced their regret that, despite ongoing efforts, the oceans continue to be threatened by pollution and overfishing.
The representative of Nauru, who spoke for the Pacific Islands Forum, said “climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and well-being of Pacific people”. She cited an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that said increasing warming will amplify the risks related to sea level rise for many human and ecological systems.
The world, observed the representative of Maldives, has failed to act in the face of climate change. “Irreversible losses of marine and coastal ecosystems are likely even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” she stressed, cautioning that, unless there is a dramatic shift in human behaviour, the oceanographic processes that moderate the global climate may be altered.
The representative of Monaco declared: “Plastic pollution is a global scourge that affects the entire food chain of every living organism on the planet”. Policy changes to address that issue at the local level must be encouraged, he emphasized, reporting that Monaco has launched restrictions on single-use plastics.
Updating the Assembly on the work of their respective entities were Michael Lodge, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, and Jin-Hyun Paik, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Mr. Lodge commended the Assembly for recognizing the Authority’s fundamental role in collecting and sharing data and information on the deep seabed. Mr. Paik recalled cases the Tribunal is deliberating on and said an efficient system for settling disputes requires designated Government officials who are familiar with law of sea matters.
The Assembly also had before it two reports of the Secretary-General on “Oceans and the law of the sea” (documents A/73/68 and A/73/368); a report on the work of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea at its nineteenth meeting (document A/73/124); and two reports on the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole on the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects (documents A/73/74 and A/73/373).
Also speaking were representatives of China, United States, Japan, Mexico, Kuwait, Bangladesh, India, Monaco, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Togo, Ukraine, Australia, Viet Nam, Russian Federation, Cameroon, and El Salvador, as well as the European Union.
The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 12 December, to consider the culture of peace, elect members of the Committee for Programme and Coordination and appoint members of the Committee on Conferences.
Introduction of Draft Resolutions
BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore), introducing the omnibus draft resolution titled “Oceans and the law of the sea” (document A/73/L.35), said the text remains one of the most important resolutions on oceans and law of the sea. It covers a wide range of issues, including: implementation of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, capacity-building and the peaceful resolution of disputes. This year’s draft takes stock of activities at the International Seabed Authority and welcomes efforts by the Authority on regulations for exploitation of mineral resources.
“The resolution recognizes the needs of developing States in the context of making submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf,” he continued. It emphasizes the importance of work undertaken to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under the Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity. Among other terms, the draft calls upon States to consider cost-effective measures and approaches to assess and address the potential socioeconomic and environmental impacts of anthropogenic underwater noise.
Speaking in his national capacity, he emphasized the critical importance of a rules-based international order for oceans and seas. “We need more, not less mutual understanding, cooperation and respect for international law,” he asserted. Human resource development is key to implementing relevant instruments on oceans and seas. More so, the importance of the world’s oceans and seas cannot be overstated, as small island developing States rely on them for their survival. Singapore is deeply committed to the law of the sea, he stressed, adding he strongly believed that a multilateral rules-based system is key to securing the sustainability of oceans, seas and their resources.
MARI SKARE (Norway) introduced a draft text titled “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments” (document A/73/L.41).
“This year’s draft resolution is a step forward in the conservation and management of fish stocks,” she noted, adding that sustainable food from aquatic ecosystems plays an increasingly critical role in global food and nutrition security. The draft addresses sustainability of small-scale fisheries, combating illegal fishing and addressing fishing overcapacity. The draft also addresses the need to ensure decent working conditions in fisheries and other maritime sectors.
Speaking in her national capacity, she referred to the draft resolution “L.35” on “Oceans and the law of the sea” - introduced by Singapore – noting that it addresses important issues to the implementation of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. It reaffirms that the Convention on the Law of the Sea sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. In that respect, the Convention clearly establishes obligations to protect and preserve the marine environment.
She pointed to marine litter as one of the biggest environmental problems facing the world. “Every year, 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans,” she warned, noting that Norway is playing a leading role in the global effort to promote clean and healthy oceans. Further, marine scientific research, an essential element of the Convention, was vital for achieving the sustainable use and conservation of the oceans, she said, voicing her support for the process of developing a new instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
DIEDRE NICHOLE MILLS (Jamaica), speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), noted that the fate of small island developing States are integrally linked with the health of the ocean. However, collective international efforts have yielded mixed results. Although awareness has risen, action is lagging. In that context, the resolutions before the General Assembly provide important steps towards strengthening the implementation of collective commitments. The recent intergovernmental conference to draft the first ever treaty addressing biodiversity on and beneath the high seas was also a milestone accomplishment in filling the legal gap in the international structure governing the seas (for background, see Press Release SEA/2076).
CARICOM countries are implementing policy changes, she said, reporting that the Bahamas had designated 10 per cent of its ocean territory as protected and is on track to expand that area to 20 per cent by 2020. In addition, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Granada, Barbados and other CARICOM countries banned single-use plastics and the bloc has joined several international instruments regulating the health of the seas and fishing practices. She expressed appreciation that the National Law Commission agenda will include the topic of sea level rise, a significant issue for CARICOM States. Acknowledging the work of the United Nations University especially, particularly its training programs for best marine practices, she emphasized that policing illegal fishing is a challenge for small States who do not have the required resources to monitor their waters. The voluntary trust funds that exist play an indispensable role in confronting those issues, but sustainable and predictable funding remains an issue, she said.
FAKASOA TEALEI (Tuvalu), speaking for the Pacific Small Island Developing States, cited overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and marine pollution from microplastic, among others, as serious threats to the health and resilience of the shared ocean. Healthy, productive and resilient oceans and seas are critical for poverty eradication, access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, economic development and ecosystem services. Welcoming the work of the recent intergovernmental conference, he stressed the importance of an equitable legal instrument which recognizes the special cases of small island developing States and ensures respect for traditional knowledge.
He urged support for the measures which are enabling the tropical tuna stocks to continue to stay at levels which can produce maximum sustainable yield. The controls that have allowed these stock to move into the green zone must be upheld. “Keeping these central and western Pacific tuna stocks at a high enough level to support unsubsidized fisheries is a matter of national economic survival”, he underlined. On the upcoming Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting, he expressed hope that the fisheries negotiators of the developed States will stop undermining the work at hand. “There are two paths to development,” he said. “One involves handouts. The other involves creating an enabling environment for sustainable economic activity. Only one of them is going to succeed.”
MARGO REMINISSE DEIYE (Nauru), speaking for the Pacific Islands Forum, welcomed the Oceans Omnibus and the Sustainable Fisheries resolutions. Citing a new regional security agreement, she said the “Boe Declaration” is an important initiative which commits Pacific countries to greater cooperation on combating illegal fishing, drug trafficking and other transnational crimes. On the importance of securing the region’s boundaries, she said that actions on maritime boundary delimitation will be prioritized and outstanding maritime boundary claims resolved. Stressing the importance of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, she called for continued efforts in sustainable fisheries management.
She also highlighted the importance of a legal instrument in which international management mechanisms allow for the comprehensive and effective management of areas beyond national jurisdiction and marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Expressing concerns on climate change impacts, such as sea level rise, she said “climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and well-being of Pacific people”. A report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that increasing warming will amplify the risks related to sea level rise for many human and ecological systems, including increased saltwater intrusion, flooding and damage to infrastructure.
DANIELA GAUCI, the European Union delegation, noted that by establishing the legal order for seas and oceans the Convention on the Law of the Sea contributes to the peace, security and cooperation among all nations, as well as to sustainable development. The first session of the intergovernmental conference on the conservation and sustainable use of marine diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction was an important step towards implementing the new agreement.
Yet, despite efforts, oceans continue to be threatened by climate change, pollution and overfishing, she said, calling for enhanced cooperation, coordination, collective political commitment and action in achieving clean, healthy and productive oceans. The European Union is committed to concluding the negotiations on multilateral disciplines on fisheries subsidies in the context of the World Trade Organization in line with the Sustainable Development Agenda. She pointed out that harmful subsidies, which contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, is one of the main impediments to achieving sustainable fisheries. Reiterating the need to ensure decent working conditions on board fishing vessels, she encouraged States to become parties to the Work in Fishing Convention of the International Labour Organization.
WU HAITAO (China), underscoring that oceans are an important arena for global cooperation and development, stressed that all States must jointly promote maritime rule of law and sustainable development of the oceans. To develop a blue economy and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, China is committed to striking the right balance between protecting oceans on the one hand and their sustainable use on the other. The promotion of international rule of law in the field of ocean affairs must be fair and rational. In the past year, good progress was made in the work of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and the International Seabed Authority, which sought peaceful settlement of maritime disputes. He voiced his hope that the above three bodies will remain committed to effectively undertaking their mandates and responsibilities.
MARGARITA PALAU-HERNANDEZ (United States), noting attempts to impede freedom of movement on the seas, called on all States to conduct activities in the maritime domain in accordance with international law as reflected in the Convention. The General Assembly was the platform in which to address these issues. On draft “L.35”, she said it was a key tool to support ocean science for sustainable development, adding that marine debris, largely composed of plastic waste, threatens food security and marine ecosystems and supported efforts to address the issue. Turning to draft “L.41”, she noted her significant concerns regarding references to the World Trade Organization in the draft and other references to trade discussions outside the auspices of the United Nations. The United Nations must respect the mandates of other institutions and not involve itself in decisions of other forums. To ensure the draft remains focused, she called on States to constructively address concerns regarding trade-related language. Despite those reservations, the United States will join consensus on the draft to reflect the importance it places on sustainable fisheries, she said.
BERGDÍS ELLERTSDÓTTIR (Iceland) said the two draft resolutions relate to issues at the core of her country’s existence, noting efforts to streamline the draft titled “Oceans and law of the sea” and commending the initiative to make the text more concise and relevant. The General Assembly consistently highlights the universal and unified character of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. “Sustainable management of natural resources is fundamental to our success,” she said, warning that the impact of climate change is among the most pressing issues facing the international community. Noting that sea ice in the Arctic continues to decrease, she said Iceland signed the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean.
HIROYUKI NAMAZU (Japan) spotlighted the importance of open seas and the rule of law as the basis for peace and security. This year’s draft resolution confirms Japan’s commitment to a rules-based maritime order and covers a wide range of oceanic issues, he said, adding that his country recognizes the role of the international Seabed Authority. Because a key part of sustainable seabed management is the sharing of skills and knowledge, this year a Japanese contractor invited four trainees from outside Japan for more than a month to participate in a training programme which included at-sea training. In addition, Japan attaches great importance to measures against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, which threatens the sustainable use of living marine resources. In that vein, last year, his Government concluded the Port State Measures Agreement, he said, encouraging countries that had not done the same to do so.
LAILA SHAREEF (Maldives) pointed out that scientists have repeatedly warned that, unless there is a dramatic shift in human behaviour, the oceanographic processes that moderate the global climate may be altered. The health of the ocean is crucial for the health of her country’s two main industries: tourism and fisheries. A national campaign against plastic pollution was launched, she reported, calling for global cooperation to ensure that every State act against plastic pollution. Turning to sea-level rise, she stressed that irreversible losses of marine and coastal ecosystems are likely even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Maldives, as one of the lowest lying countries in the world, has been a persistent leader in efforts to prevent sea-level rise since 1989. Still, the world has failed to act. Legal implications of sea-level rise now must be evaluated, she said, welcoming the inclusion of the topic in the programme of work of the International Law Commission. Large areas of deep blue ocean waters that are currently ungoverned must be regulated as well. Welcoming the convening of the first meeting of the intergovernmental conference, she stressed that the special circumstances of small island developing States must be reflected in the instrument under discussion.
JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) reaffirmed that the Convention on the Law of the Sea is the international framework for the development of all activities in the oceans and seas. His Government is implementing national legislation to promote the equitable use of marine resources and conservation of the marine environment, adding that 22 per cent of Mexico’s marine areas are protected. He called on relevant international organizations to disseminate information related to marine scientific research. In addition, Mexico criminalizes trafficking in certain marine species. It is fundamental to pursue efforts to mitigate land-based contamination, he said, also stressing the need to assess the effects of climate change on marine environments.
TAHANI R. F. A. ALNASER (Kuwait) said protecting oceans and seas is of utmost importance to achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Kuwait is a party to the Convention on the Law of the Sea and participates in activities undertaken by the United Nations related to the seas and oceans. She called on all States to accede to the Convention and related instruments. Maritime shipping is among the most important transport networks in the world. Calling for regional and international efforts to combat piracy, she pointed out that, due to anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, only two acts of piracy have been recorded this year in the region.
TAREQ Md. ARIFUL ISLAM (Bangladesh) said that, after the settlement of maritime border disputes with neighbouring States in 2014, Bangladesh sought to unlock the potential of the blue economy, a key priority for the development of the country. Recalling that of the 10 targets under Sustainable Development Goal 14, 6 are time-specific and require global partnerships for implementation, he stressed the importance of completing the World Trade Organization negotiation to address fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and illegal fishing. In light of the effects climate induced sea-level rise will have on coastal states, he welcomed the inclusion of the topic in the International Law Commission’s programme of work. Expressing concern about the large movements of migrants and refugees at sea, he urged States to comply with their obligations for search and rescue at sea. Capacity-building and transfer of marine technology are essential for developing States, he emphasized, calling for the suitable utilization of the United Nations Technology Bank by least developed countries.
YEDLA UMASANKAR (India) noted that one-third of India’s population lives along the coast and the country is one of the world’s leading producers of fish. Along with plastic pollution, sustainable fishing, marine litter and other issues, the need for ‘greening’ the ocean economy is gaining importance, he observed. The Indian Ocean Rim Association is promoting the blue economy as a driver of inclusive and sustainable growth and development, he said, recalling that India is also an active participant in multilateral efforts at developing a collective management of ocean affairs. Effective global partnership is crucial for capacity building, collaboration on technology and financial assistance for least developed countries. In that regard, his country cooperates with its partners in the region through various instruments on issues such as oil-spill contingency planning, climate change mitigation and disaster preparedness. In addition, last year India announced the establishment of the India-United Nations Development Partnership Fund which focuses on climate resilience for Pacific island States.
FLORIAN BOTTO (Monaco) called plastic pollution a global scourge that effects the entire food chain of every living organism on the planet. Policy changes to address that issue at the local level must be encouraged, he emphasized, reporting that Monaco has launched restrictions on single use plastics. Aside from land-based activities, some sea activities have detrimental repercussions on marine life, including underwater noise pollution that can disorient and cause physical harm to marine life. Global warming, even a 1.5 degree Celsius increase, will have considerable effects on the environment, he said, pointing out that a rise in sea level will threaten entire populations and national boundaries, thus triggering legal issues that must be addressed. Turning to the deterioration of coral reefs, he noted that he International Coral Reef Initiative’s plan of action for 2018-2020 is to identify threats to reef and find innovative solutions. INDEMER [Institut du Droit Économique de la Mer] in Monaco publishes the only French articles on maritime issues and law of the sea. Marine protected areas are crucial tools to preserve biodiversity and marine habitats, he stressed, also emphasizing the importance of those areas in the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 14.
MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina) recalled that the protection and sustainability of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction is being considered at the intergovernmental conference and said that any instrument negotiated there should not be an end in and of itself. The control of illicit trafficking of flora and fauna by sea requires cooperation, he pointed out, expressing appreciation for the work of Commission on Limits of the Continental Self in that regard, and calling for medical coverage for commission members. For its part Argentina is working actively to conserve 10 per cent of marine and coastal zones by 2020, he reported, saying that local bodies are seeking consensus on policies protecting environment and resources, a problem that is multisectoral with far reaching implications. He went on to express concern that General Assembly resolutions addressing marine issues could be misinterpreted by local fisheries, especially in regard to the national flags flown aboard fishing vessels.
MARC-ANDRÉ BLANCHARD (Canada) said his Government is committed to championing oceans and the law of the sea. Canada recently co-hosted with Kenya and Japan the sustainable Blue Economy Conference as part of efforts to build an economy that harnesses the potential of oceans, seas, lakes and rivers to improve the lives of all. At the regional level, Canada signed the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. The Agreement represents the first time such an effort has taken place ahead of any fishing activities. On a national platform, Canada is progressing towards achieving the commitment of conserving 10 per cent of its maritime and coastal areas and is implementing its Oceans Protection Plan to improve marine safety and responsible shipping. “No one country has all the answers,” she said, asserting that Canada will be an active partner in efforts to deliver meaningful results on oceans.
GUILLLERMO FERNANDEZ DE SOTO (Colombia) said his country – having coasts on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – promotes healthy management of marine ecosystems. His country, committed to sustainable development through the implementation of national initiatives, possesses significant structures to promote conservation efforts. He recognized the contributions of the drafts before the Assembly but noted that his Government could not agree with language related to the Convention on the Law of the Sea included in the texts. Colombia’s marine activities are in accordance with international law, he asserted, noting that support for the drafts cannot imply acceptance of provisions contained in the Convention.
KOKOU KPAYEDO (Togo), calling oceans “the lungs of the planet”, said those waters are essential to food security, transport and climate regulation. Coastal communities in least developed countries are highly dependent on oceans, which are the foundation of sustainable economies. His country takes an intersectoral approach to implementing marine-related legislation and has created a national body charged with overseeing the State’s marine activities. He expressed pleasure at the holding of a conference to address issues of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. “It is crucial to sustainably exploit marine resources,” he said, adding that he will vote in favour of draft resolution “L.35”.
DARYNA HORBACHOVA (Ukraine), aligning herself with the European Union, voiced her support for the draft resolutions before the Assembly, adding that greater efforts by Member States, as called for by the Secretary-General on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, were necessary to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14. That would require enhanced international cooperation and coordination and increased capacity-building, among others. Such efforts must be undertaken under the legal framework set out by the Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Convention also provides Ukraine with exclusive rights to the resources within its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone. Yet, since 2014 the Russian Federation has violated those rights. Giving an overview of arbitral proceedings instituted by Ukraine against that country since 2014, he noted that unlawful actions in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait continue, aggravating its dispute with Ukraine.
She went on to say that by illegally constructing a bridge across the Kerch Strait, the Russian Federation violated numerous provisions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, including its obligations to protect the marine environment and allow unimpeded transit passage through the Kerch Strain as well as to Ukraine’s ports at Mariupol and Berdyansk. The Russian Federation engaged in a new campaign on 29 April to interfere with Ukraine’s rights in the Sea of Azov by stopping vessels in the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov. In a relatively short period, it has stopped more than 200 vessels in violation of its fundamental obligation under the Convention not to hamper or impede transit passage through an international strait. In addition, within the past month, the Russian Federation seized Ukrainian navy vessels in Ukraine’s exclusive economic zone. The Russian Federation’s reckless, unilateral actions, including unlawful certification of seafarers and registration of ships in the occupied Crimea as well as attempts to claim control over Ukraine’s search and rescue assets in that area, have turned the northern part of the Black Sea into a grey zone for international shipping.
FLEUR JEWEL ALICE HAMILTON (Australia), associating herself with the Pacific Islands Forum, stressed the importance of preserving ocean and marine ecosystem health. Emphasizing her country’s commitment to promoting freedom of trade and safeguarding freedom of navigation, she advocated strongly for peaceful resolution of disputes. The Convention on the Law of the Sea provides the legal framework for activities in the oceans and seas and is the basis for national, regional and global action and cooperation on ocean matters. “This year’s Oceans Omnibus resolution highlights the first ever conciliation process under the Law of Sea Convention,” she said, spotlighting that the historic process resolved the long-running boundary dispute between Australia and Timor-Leste. On the security and future of Pacific Island States, she noted the significant development, economic and environmental challenges of sea-level rise for affected States and regions and welcomed the International Law Commission’s inclusion of the topic, “Sea-level rise in relation to international law” in its work programme.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) emphasized the universality of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides a comprehensive and legal framework for all maritime activities. He welcomed the first compulsory conciliation under annex V, which resulted in the Treaty Between the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste and Australia Establishing their Maritime Boundaries in the Timor Sea. Noting his country’s vulnerability to climate change, sea-level rise and extreme weather events, he expressed his strong support for international efforts to promote sustainable use of marine resources. However, measures to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing should take into account specific national circumstances of small-scale fisheries. As a coastal State on the South China Sea, and in the context of complex developments there, he called upon all concerned parties to refrain from unilateral acts which may complicate or escalate disputes.
MAXIM V. MUSIKHIN (Russian Federation) said the omnibus resolution before the General Assembly reiterates that the Convention establishes the legal framework of the law of the sea and must be kept in its integrity. He went on to call for the effective implementation of all related legal instruments, noting the successful cooperation under the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. That adoption represented a strong instrument in regulating fisheries beyond jurisdiction, he said, calling on all States to cooperate with the Agreement. However, regarding the issue of the conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond jurisdiction, and given the widely different positions on the topic, decisions must be made by consensus only.
Turning to the statement made by the representative of Ukraine, he said that delegation appeared to be exercising a domestic agenda in the General Assembly. He recalled that the Crimean bridge was constructed in such a way as to not to permit the passage of vessels over a certain height. From 1 April to 31 October, border control examined many ships, including 31 from Ukraine, he reported, highlighting the importance of uninterrupted and secure commercial passage through the Straits. On 25 November, Ukrainian navy ships travelled through Russian waters without having provided appropriate information ahead of time, he said, stressing that Ukraine violated clear rules and with intent.
ZACHARIE SERGE RAOUL NYANID (Cameroon) said the oceans play a role in establishing social and economic balance, hold considerable quantities of energy resources and are important in political and military strategies. However, unmitigated harmful activates can seriously damage the marine environment. Sound pollution is causing physical damage to a myriad of species, negatively impacting their migration and reproduction patterns. He called for a greater awareness to help promote understanding of how the oceans help advance the 2030 Agenda, including capacity-building and the transfer of knowledge. He also called for enhanced protections for the marine environment, hailing the work of the recent conference on the oceans. The blue economy is critical for Africa. Ocean-related renewable energy sources can meet global energy demands, he said, adding that “activity related to the seas can allow Africa to occupy a leading role in global geo-politics”.
Jin-Hyun Paik (Republic of Korea), President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, recalled the background of the M/V "Norstar" Case (Panama v. Italy), and reported that the Tribunal is now deliberating on it and will deliver its judgement in the spring of 2019. Disputes arising from the arrest of vessels mainly pertain to the claim of damages or to illegal arrest and detention, he observed, saying that the Tribunal had already awarded reparations in several such cases. In cases where vessels are detained, for fishing or pollution violations, a request for the release of the detained vessel can be made.
This year’s draft resolution encourages States who have not done so to make a written statement, he said, noting that indeed 52 States have made such written declarations. Even in the absence of written statements, the Tribunal can deal with all issues presented to it. It also can deal with urgent cases and render a decision in as little as one month, particularly if parties express their willingness and expectation that the dispute can be resolved in a short time frame. Parties may agree to dispense with oral proceedings, for instance. In advisory proceedings, if the question necessitates an urgent answer, the Seabed Chamber can take all steps to expedite the case. Turning to the recent intergovernmental conference, he urged that consideration be given to the request of the Tribunal to have an advisory position in the new instrument.
During the last year the Tribunal has held two administrative sessions which were devoted to legal and judicial matters, he continued. A decision — which was adopted to amend several rules relating to authorizing a second round of written pleadings — determined that only the Tribunal should give authorization under those circumstances. An efficient system for settling disputes requires designated Government officials who are familiar with law of sea matters, he pointed out, highlighting the importance of acquainting the younger generation with the tools available to States that are pursuing peaceful settlement of disputes. In that regard, he called attention to internships and trust funds for the Tribunal which have been established with assistance from various agencies to provide financial support for applicants from developing countries.
MICHAEL LODGE, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, commended the General Assembly on the improvement in attendance at the twenty-fourth session of the Assembly this year, adding that it is an encouraging sign of renewed commitment. The improvement in attendance is due to the fact that a voluntary trust fund has been established to facilitate the participation of members of the International Seabed Authority Council from developing States. Also commendable was that the General Assembly, for the second year in a row, recognizes the Seabed Authority’s fundamental role in collecting and sharing data and information on the deep seabed. Still, he expressed serious concern about the number of States Parties in arrears of their assessed contributions to the Seabed Authority.
The Council made important progress on the elaboration of the Mining Code, including measures to protect the marine environment, as well as the financial terms of contracts for mineral exploration, he continued. Following the last meeting of the Council in July, 42 written submissions were received on the draft exploitation regulations. The Council is working hard to achieve the target it had set for itself to finalize the draft regulations by 2020. In addition, a particular focus for the Seabed Authority is “getting it right”, which is welcomed in operative paragraph 69 of the draft resolution and includes the development of regional environmental management plans in areas where exploration activities are taking place, he said.
The Seabed Authority’s role in environmental management of the international seabed area is of particular concern, he continued. He also highlighted the Seabed Authority’s support of the work of the intergovernmental conference, which was illustrated by the five statements made by the Authority during the first substantive session of the conference in September, as well as its three side events. In regards to the drafting of the instrument, he stressed that the same marine environment in its entirety must be protected, not just parts of it. Therefore, discussions should not further fragment the law of the sea. In relation to the Area and its resources, it is important to fully respect the rights of States that are to be exercised only in accordance with Part XI of the Convention. Although not referred to in the draft resolution, significant efforts have been invested to contribute to the 2030 Agenda, especially the development of the Blue Economy.
Action on Draft Resolutions
The General Assembly then adopted the draft resolution, “Oceans and the law of the sea” (document A/73/L.35) by a recorded vote of 121 in favour to 1 against (Turkey), with 3 abstentions (Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela).
It then adopted without a vote the draft resolution, “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments” (document A/73/L.41).
The representative of Argentina, in explanation of vote, said he joined consensus on draft “L.41” and stressed that no recommendations in the draft can be interpreted as signifying that provisions of the Convention of the Law of the Sea on conservation and management of migrating fish stocks can be considered binding. He noted the adoption by coastal States of measures to address the impacts of fishing on vulnerable marine ecosystems and called for respect of such measures.
The representative of El Salvador noted that marine health is crucial for global food security and, as such, El Salvador is a party to the Convention of the Law of the Sea. However, he pointed out that his delegation has repeatedly asked that the resolution reflect the view of all States and requested that it be considered in the Conference of States Parties. In addition, he voiced reservations about language regarding environmental conservation within the text. Therefore, he abstained from voting.
The representative of Turkey, pointing out that his country is not a party to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, noted he had called for the vote on “L.35” and had voted against the text. That treaty is neither universal nor has a unified character. Calling on all parties to be more constructive and flexible to take all non-parties’ concerns into account, he cautioned against the language in the Convention to set a precedent for other resolutions. On “41”, noting he was joining consensus, he emphasized Turkey’s commitment to conservation, management and sustainable use of marine living resources. However, he also said he disassociated himself from references made in that resolution to the Convention.
The representative from Venezuela noted that her country was not a party to the Convention of the Law of the Sea or to the application to the provisions to the Law of the Sea which covers the management of fish stock. Therefore, those standards are not applicable to Venezuela unless it recognizes those provisions by integrating them into national legislation. The Convention does not enjoy universal participation and should not be considered the only legal instrument governing the sea, she said, noting other international instruments that could be applied. The subject of sustainable marine health is a priority for Venezuela and it has complied with its obligations. However, she expressed reservations on elements of the draft resolution and said any future implementation should be addressed in a balanced and fair fashion.
Right of Reply
The representative of Ukraine, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said Moscow was spreading falsehoods at the United Nations. “We have seen how the Russian Federation manipulates facts,” he said, condemning that country’s use of cyber-attacks. While such concerns are not related to maritime law, they prove that the statements of the Russian Federation are worthless.
The representative of the Russian Federation said he was surprised by the statement made by the representative of Ukraine, as it ignored the agenda items before the General Assembly. He summarized his delegation’s prior statement, noting that if Ukraine adheres to rules related to the passage of ships its warships and commercial vessels will be able to move freely. Otherwise, those responsible for breaking rules will be brought to justice.