Sea Convention Not Yet in Force, but Its Impact Is Already Felt

UN Chronicle, February 1985 | Go to article overview

Sea Convention Not Yet in Force, but Its Impact Is Already Felt


The Secretary-General noted that States crossing the political, economic and geographic spectrum had signed the pact. "The signatories included coastal and land-locked States, large and small States, developing and developed States, and represented all economic and political groups", he said. The signing by so many countries amounted to an "unprecedented phenomenon" that "clearly indicated the widespread support of the international community for the Convention."

The States that did not sign are: Albania, Ecuador, Federal Republic of Germany, Holy See, Israel, Jordan, Kiribati, Peru, San Marino, Syrian Arab Republic, Tonga, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela.

Most of the States that withheld their signatures did so because they objected to particular provisions of the Convention, not because they disagreed with the document in general, the Secretary-General said. Some non-signatory industrialized nations had difficulty with provisions for exploration and exploitation of the international sea-bed area, for example. Others had bilateral problems and disagreed with provisions for the delimitation of maritime areas between States with opposite or adjacent coasts.

National Policy

The Secretary-General's report said that most States have adopted or are adopting legislation consistent with the pact. At least 60 nations now have the "exclusive economic zones" of up to 200 nautical miles authorized by the Convention. 'This wide-scale movement towards the incorporation of the concept of the exclusive economic zone into national policy and legislation demonstrates the impact the Convention is having upon the evolution of the law of the sea", the report said.

Some States that have not adopted an exclusive economic zone have nonetheless extended jurisdiction through fisheries zones. Twently one States now have such zones of up to 200 nautical miles. Since the Conference that led to the Convention, some States with fisheries zones--among them the USSR and the United States--have introduced the concept of an exclusive economic zone in a way that either conforms to the Convention or more closely follows it.

More than 80 States now have a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles in breadth, as allowed for in the Convention. (The Convention also allows for a second 12 nautical miles of contiguous zone.) Of the 80, 48 set the claim during the Conference. Twenty-four States, however, most of them signers of the pact, extend their sovereignty beyond the 12 nautical mile limit, although in most cases the legislation enacting these zones was adopted before the 1970s, the Secretary-General wrote.

Of the coastal States that have ratified the Convention, five (Cuba, Fiji, Ivory Coast, Mexico and Philippines) have enacted exclusive economic zones, two (Bahamas and Gambia) have fisheries zones and two (Ghana and Senegal) have an extended territorial sea. Four (Belize, Jamaica, Egypt and Namibia) have not yet adopted legislation about extended jurisdiction over the sea.

France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Japan, the USSR, the United Kingdom and the United States are the only States that have enacted legislation regarding the international sea-bed area. Such legislation, the Secretary-General noted, has been challenged in international forums by other States.

Many countries continue to lack the integrated approach to marine affairs encouraged by the Convention. Their policies, according to the report, address "various marine sectors, such as fisheries, oil and gas, or shipping and transport, independently of one another" while "inter-sectoral relationships, including those between marine and non-marine affairs, are rarely addressed." In some instances, up to 15 ministries and other governmental agencies are involved in various aspects of marine affairs.

Some countries are working to solve this problem by assigning important sea issues to a single agency, as Thailand has done for coastal zone management. …

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