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date: 11 December 2019

Law of the Sea

Summary and Keywords

The International Law of the Sea, or simply Law of the Sea, is a body of legal norms that regulate the use of the seas and delineate the powers and jurisdiction of States over various parts of the seas. The evolution of the Law of the Sea can be divided into three different eras: the 17th-century great debate over open versus closed seas, era of codification, and era of institutionalization. The debate between early scholars over the issue of whether the sea was open to all and subject to the freedom of the seas (mare liberum or open seas) or whether the seas could be subject to sovereignty by States (mare clausum or closed seas) became the generally accepted basis for contemporary law of the sea. The era of codification saw the convening of three United Nations Conferences on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS I, UNCLOS II, and UNCLOS III. The Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC), adopted in 1982, initiated an era of the institutionalization of the law of the sea. From early in the 21st century, the international community appears to be leaning toward closed seas, but there are also indications that cooperative arrangements among parties on the law of the sea will be more prevalent. An example of such initiative is the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.

Keywords: Law of the Sea, international law, codification, institutionalization, freedom of the seas, open seas, mare clausum, closed seas, United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Law of the Sea Convention

Introduction

The sea from time immemorial has served humankind in diverse ways. It has provided a link for transportation and trade between various states. In addition, through activities such as fishing, it is a source of food, and perhaps more recently, it serves as a cache of tremendous offshore mineral resources for coastal states. The importance of the sea has been further highlighted by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, which stresses the need for conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas, and marine resources.

The multifunctional uses of the sea over the years have led to the development of a body of legal norms, labeled as the International Law of the Sea or more simply, Law of the Sea, to regulate the uses of the seas and to delineate the powers and jurisdiction of States over various parts of the seas. The Law of the Sea may broadly be divided into two categories: traditional law of the sea (developed by a few predominant western maritime powers) and modern law of the sea (having input from a wider and diverse number of States, in terms of geographical location, economic development, and ideology) (Anand, 1982, p. 1).

There is a superabundance of literature on the law of the sea, and it is almost impossible to cover all the literature in a review article. This literature review is therefore limited to examining some key literature that elucidates the development of this important area of international law. Although, in its formative period, jurists such as Grotius, Selden, and Bynkershoek played a significant role in the development of the law of the sea, the subsequent development of this important area of international law has been by the practice of States. Notwithstanding that article 38(1) (d) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) mentions the writings of publicists (writers) as a subsidiary source of International Law, in reality, development of contemporary international law, including the law of the sea, is actually by way of the practice of States expressed in the form of either customary international law, or treaties, or general principles of law (Parry, 1965, pp. 103–105; Thirlway in Evans, 2006, p. 129). Scholars merely interpret what States do, and such interpretation may be influenced by a complexity of factors. For instance, some of their writings may portray the influence of their national background and ideological inclination. For others, professional training—as for instance, legal scholars or diplomats or political theorists—may shape their writings. These influences may be either explicit or implicit in their writings.

For the sake of some coherence, this review is divided into four major headings—Great Debate: Open Versus Closed Seas, Era of Codification, Era of Institutionalization, and Trends in Contemporary Law of the Sea.

Great Debate: Open Versus Closed Seas

Although certain scholars, such as Anand (in Pacem in Maribus, 2000, pp. 9–11) and Egede (2011, pp. 1–3), have argued against a Eurocentric narrative and for a place for non-European sources in the development of the law of the sea, the generally accepted basis for contemporary law of the sea could be traced back to the 17th-century great debate between European scholars. That debate was on whether the sea was open to all and subject to the freedom of the seas (mare liberum or open seas), or whether the seas could be subject to sovereignty by States (mare clausum or closed seas). The debate began with the writing in 1609 of Mare Liberum, by the famous Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius, a book described as “the first and classic exposition of the doctrine of the freedom of the seas” (Anand, 1987, p. 53). It was a book of advocacy commissioned by the Dutch East India Company to defend the right of the Dutch and their agents to navigate the Indian Ocean and other Eastern seas to facilitate trade with East India. Grotius’ writing was in response to the papal bull by Pope Alexander VI in 1494, given legal effect through the Treaty of Tordesillas, which effectively divided the seas between Portugal and Spain, the two predominant maritime powers at that time (O’Connell, 1982, pp. 1–18). Mare Liberum argued for freedom of the seas because, by its nature as belonging to the communia (res communis), the seas could not be occupied and owned (dominium) by individual States. This book was the most influential exposition of the principle of the freedom of the seas, which over the years has become a keystone in the law of the sea. Scovazzi argued that Grotius’ advocacy of freedom of the seas had nothing to do with any attachment to it as a conceptual dogma but rather it was a pragmatic approach to the issues at hand. Zemanek also pointed out that, in reality, the controversy over the freedom of the seas had less to do with the prohibition of sovereignty over the sea but was more about the free use of the sea for commercial purposes, that is, free trade (Scovazzi, 2001, p. 64; Zemanek, 1999, p. 52).

In response to Mare Liberum, several books were written that argued the contrary view of closed seas. These include Scotsman William Welwood’s An Abridgement of All Sea-Lawes (1613) and Englishman John Selden’s Mare Clausum, seu de Dominio Maris Libri Duo (The closed sea or two books concerning the Rule over the sea) (1635) (see Butler in Bull, Kingsbury, & Roberts, 1990, p. 214; Scovazzi, 2001, pp. 62–68). These responses to Mare Liberum opened up a doctrinal debate, sometimes known as “the battle of books,” on whether the seas were open or closed (Scovazzi, 2001, p. 66). The latter books argued that the seas were capable of occupation, just like the land, and could therefore be subject to the sovereignty of individual States. Selden’s book, said to be “the most celebrated response to Mare Liberum,” (Butler in Bull et al., 1990, pp. 210–211) was commissioned by James I of England, interested in curtailing the benefits of the open seas policy accruing to the Dutch with their powerful merchant and fishing fleets. This was a change from the policy of the predecessor of James I, Queen Elizabeth, who advocated freedom of the seas because, like the Dutch, she was interested in curbing the monopoly of Spain and Portugal and getting a share of the East India trade. Selden’s book in support of closed seas provided the theoretical basis for the policy of James I (Brown, 1994, p. 7). Scovazzi identified two important contributions of the proponents of mare clausum to the development of the law of the sea. First, he pointed out that they introduced what he referred to as “a latent element of subjectivism and dynamic instability” into the law of the sea that permitted States to extend their sovereignty over the seas due to new interests, needs, and circumstances. Second, they were able to expose the shortcomings of the concept of freedom of the seas when this was applied to activities in the sea different from navigation (Scovazzi, 2001, pp. 8).

Grotius subsequently made a slight adjustment to his initial position on open seas. While still insisting that the open seas could not be subject to occupation by any individual state, he acknowledged that a coastal state might exercise sovereignty over certain marginal parts of the seas adjoining its land territory. (See for instance, chapter two, paragraph III of De jure belli ac pacis [on the law of war and peace] 1625 [his main text on international law]; Butler in Bull et al., 1990, p. 214; Grotius in Scott, 1925]).

In an attempt to broker a compromise in the mare liberum/mare clausum debate, some scholars, notably Dutch jurist Cornelius Van Bynkershoek in 1702, in his book, De Dominio Maris (on the rule of the seas), contended that, though the high sea was subject to freedom of the seas, a coastal state had sovereignty over a limited maritime belt adjacent to its coast (known presently as the territorial sea) subject to the right of innocent passage for navigational purposes. Inevitably, this raised the question: what exactly is the limit of this territorial sea? Bynkershoek advocated that the limit be determined by the control the coastal state had over the sea from the land, established by the range of a cannon shot from the land to the sea (the cannon-shot rule). However, while this was a pragmatic attempt to reconcile the ongoing debate between the two opposing doctrinal positions, it still introduced a rather subjective element: two different cannons firing from the land would obviously have different ranges.

Some publicists, notably Ferdinando Galiani, subsequently interpreted the cannon-shot rule to mean that a coastal State could exercise sovereignty over a maritime belt three nautical miles from the low-water mark.1 This interpretation was afterwards adopted by maritime powers, such as Britain and the United States, who were keen to have as much of the seas subject to the principle of freedom of the seas (Scovazzi, 2001, pp. 68–76). It is pertinent to note, however, that certain writers, such as Walker and Kent, challenged the traditional view that the three-mile limit adopted by these maritime powers had its historical root in the cannon-shot rule (Kent, 1954, pp. 537–553; Walker, 1945, pp. 210–213).

Arvid Pardo, notable for his famous speech in 1967 before the United Nations General Assembly calling for the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction to be declared as the common heritage of mankind, in an article titled “Law of the Sea: Its Past and its Future,” pointed out that by 1914 the principle of freedom of the seas beyond the three-mile territorial sea had acquired the status of customary international law (Pardo, 1984, p. 11). The status of freedom of the seas as part of customary international law is universally accepted. Butler, acknowledging the influence of the doctrinal debate on mare liberum/mare clausum on Soviet State practice, pinpoints that even the former Soviet Union acknowledged the freedom of the seas as a crucial part of the law of the sea (Butler, 1971, 116–133, 172–174).

The doctrinal debate of mare liberum and mare clausum up to this day pervades the law of the sea. According to Brown (2001, p. 14), the ascendancy of one over the other has over the years tended to reflect the interests of the predominant maritime power of the day. Although Brown emphasized the no doubt crucial role of predominant powers in the development of the law of the sea, lesser powers have also made key contributions to its development. For instance, developing coastal states played a key role in convening the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which led to the emergence of new maritime zones, such as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the seabed beyond national jurisdiction (the Area). The conception of the EEZ, which is not only part of conventional law, the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) 1982, but also part of customary international law, is attributed to African coastal states (Akintoba, 1997; Churchill & Lowe, 1999, pp. 160–180; Rembe, 1980, pp. 116–142).

Nonetheless, what is obvious from the writings of the various scholars is that the principles of the law of the sea, even dogmas such as the freedom of the seas, are not sacrosanct but are applied, varied, and adapted by the States, especially, though not exclusively, the predominant coastal states, to meet what they regard to be their current interests.

Era of Codification

UNCLOS I and II

Although some major maritime states supported the three-mile rule as the limit for the territorial sea, some other states were more inclined to claim for a wider limit. In 1930, the League of Nations convened the Hague Codification Conference to seek to codify the law of the sea; however, nothing significant came out of this conference as the participating states were unable to reach an agreement on the breadth of the territorial sea (Churchill & Lowe, 1999, pp. 13–15; Koh, 1983–1984, p. 764; Wang, 1992, pp. 23–25).

Not too long after the Hague Conference, in 1945, President Truman of the United States issued two Proclamations. The first Proclamation (No. 2667) declared that the natural resources of the subsoil and seabed of the continental shelf (CS) beneath the high seas adjacent to the coasts of America were subject to its jurisdiction and control. It however acknowledged that this claim did not affect the character of the waters above the CS as high seas and the right to freedom of navigation of foreign ships over these waters. This Proclamation was accompanied by similar widespread claims by other states resulting in the emergence of the concept of the CS as part of customary international law. The second Proclamation (No. 2668) established fishery conservation zones in areas of the high seas contiguous to the coasts of the United States. Lauterpacht, appearing to affirm the rather pragmatic approach of the United States, asserted, “Freedom of the seas could not be treated as a rigid dogma incapable of adaptation to situations which were outside the realm of practical possibilities in the period when that principle first became part of international law” (Lauterpacht, 1950, pp. 398–399). On the other hand, scholars such as Koh and Anand, from developing States, point to the irony of America, a major proponent of freedom of high seas, with these Proclamations, unleashing a vital challenge to the principle of freedom of the seas to serve its national interests of protecting fisheries and their exclusive rights to exploitation of mineral resources (Anand, 2000, in Pacem in Maribus, p.15; Koh, 1983–1984, 764–765). However, developing states scholars agree that unlimited freedom of the seas would only serve the interest of the few technologically developed maritime powers. For instance, Anand has also said that the traditional conception of freedom of the seas meant “unequal freedom or only freedom for the few” (1980, p. 39).

The conflicting extensive claims of parts of the sea by states, encroaching into areas traditionally subject to freedoms of the seas doctrine, provided a backdrop for the convening of Codification Conferences under the auspices of the United Nations, which was established in 1945. The first United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS I) was convened in 1957. This Conference produced four Geneva Conventions adopted in 1958, namely the Conventions on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, the High Seas, the Continental Shelf and Fishing, and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas. There was also an optional protocol on dispute settlement. Despite the success of the 1958 conference, the parties failed to reach any agreement on two fundamental issues, namely the breadth of the territorial sea and fishery limits. Arthur H. Dean, the head of the American delegation to the Conference, defending the American position at the Conference, attributed this to a complexity of factors related to the various states’ economic and security interests. For instance, the United States was unwilling to concede to the then Soviet Union’s proposal that the breadth of the territorial sea be 12 nautical miles (a breadth that Soviet scholars asserted had been applied by Russia for more than half a century) because it felt this would decrease its security by reducing the efficiency of its naval and air power and also increase the risk of surprise attacks (Butler, 1971, pp. 17–45; Dean, 1958, pp. 89–90). Also, it is important to note that the 1958 Continental Shelf Convention defined the CS as the seabed and the subsoil of the submarine areas adjacent to the Coastal State, but outside the territorial sea up to the depth of 200 meters or beyond that limit up to the depth to which its technical capabilities allowed it to exploit (the so-called exploitability test in Article 1). This triggered a debate amongst scholars. The debate was whether the rather vague exploitability test, read together with the requirement of adjacency, allowed for only a narrow CS, or whether it allowed the coastal State to claim for a generous CS subject only to its technological capability. Noteworthy contributions to this debate includes the Henkin/Finlay exchanges (Finlay, 1970, pp. 42–61; Friedmann, 1971, pp. 757–770; Goldie, 1972, pp. 829–835; Henkin, 1969, pp. 504–510; Henkin, 1970, pp. 62–72). This debate exposed the need for a more precise conventional provision on the outer limit of the CS, which was done in the subsequent Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) 1982 (See Article 76).

The second United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS II), convened in 1960, failed to resolve the outstanding issues carried over from UNCLOS I. It would appear that the complexity of factors had not been overcome two years after the first Conference. UNCLOS II failed to produce an agreement on the issue of the breadth of the territorial sea and fishery limits and, unlike its predecessor, failed to produce any new Conventions (Dean, 1960, pp. 751–789). As far as some writers from developing States, such as Anand, were concerned, all the 1958 and 1960 Conferences did was merely to confirm the traditional law of the sea (Anand, 1980, pp. 41–42).

Pre-UNCLOS III

From the 1960s, a number of developing states emerged as independent states and were able to garner an automatic majority in the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN). At the time of UNCLOS I and II, most of these States were still under colonial rule and did not have an opportunity to have a direct input into the formulation of traditional law of the sea, including the 1958 Geneva Conventions. Consequently, these states were dissatisfied with the traditional law of the sea, which they viewed as tilted in favor of the Western developed states. Scholars from developing States, such as Anand, Ajomo, and Rembe, supported this view that the traditional law of the sea was Eurocentric and merely catered for the interest of the major maritime powers (Anand, 1982, p. 1; Ajomo, in Churchill, Simmonds, & Welch, 1973, pp. 302–310; Rembe, 1980, pp. 7–13). Ajomo stated:

it must be realised that existing norms governing rights on the sea, like most norms of customary international law, were formed from practice among Western European States before the accession of the new African and Asian States to independence. Many countries of the Third World were not parties to the development of these norms. Further some of these norms have been considered as unfavourable to many countries of Africa and Asia and their aspirations.

(Churchill et al., 1973, p. 302)

Although the writers from developing States (e.g., Anand, Ajomo, and Rembe) did not support a wholesale rejection of international law, including the law of the sea, they advocated that the traditional international law provisions be transformed to incorporate provisions favorable to developing States (Anand, 1980, pp. 42–43; Anghie & Chimni, 2003, pp. 77–103; Ajomo in Churchill et al., 1973, pp. 302–303; Rembe, 1980, pp. 3–33). For instance, Anand (1980, pp. 39–40), challenging the traditional freedom of the seas, pointed out:

Most of the coastal States are seriously questioning the value of the doctrine of freedom of the seas, which, howsoever useful it might have been in the past, has become “tyrannical” today. It is no longer valid to claim that the freedom of fishing is in the interests of the international community when millions of human beings are suffering and dying from lack of proteins while others are making disproportionate profits. Nor can unlimited freedom of navigation or scientific research be accepted when what is sought is simply protection of the interests of a small number of States.

Developing states were therefore keen for a “new” law of the sea that would incorporate their own interests. In 1967, Pardo’s speech proposing that the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction (the Area) and the resources thereof should be declared as the common heritage of mankind and used for only peaceful purposes (a speech in essence calling for equal rights of all states in the Area and distributive justice), served as a rallying point for mainly developing states to push for a third Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) (Dupuy & Vignes, 1991, pp. 141–148). Several Resolutions were adopted at the UN General Assembly, including the Declaration of Principles Concerning the Seabed and the Ocean Floor and the Subsoil Thereof beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction 1970(A/RES/25/2749), which culminated in the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III; Rembe, 1980, pp. 36–57)

The issue of the legal effect of the resolutions created a divide between scholars from developing states and a number of their counterparts from developed States. As far as a number of developing states scholars were concerned, UN General Assembly resolutions adopted by a large majority, such as the Declaration of Principles Resolution (adopted by 108 votes to nil, with 14 abstentions) were binding because they evidenced customary international law (Mahmoudi, 1987, pp. 124–149; Rembe, 1980, pp. 46–57). Nevertheless, a number of their counterparts from developed states disputed the binding effect of UN General Assembly Resolutions, even if adopted by a majority. They were of the view that these were merely political instruments and not intended to create legal obligations (Brown, 2001; 22–45).

Although the various General Assembly Resolutions declared the Area and the resources therein as the common heritage of mankind, there was a debate among certain scholars on whether the Area prior to the adoption of the LOSC 1982 was res communis, with its resources exploitable as one of the freedoms of the high seas. The 1958 Geneva Convention on the high seas, a codification of existing customary international law, defined the high seas as all parts of the sea not included in the internal waters or territorial sea (Art.1). It affirmed that the high seas are open to all states, with no state able to subject any part to its sovereignty. Further, it endorsed the right of all states, both coastal and non-coastal, to have the freedoms of the high seas, such as the freedom of navigation, fishing, laying submarine cables and pipelines. The list of freedoms is obviously not exhaustive, as the Convention mentions that there are other freedoms “which are recognised by the general principles of international law” (Art.2). At one point, there was a major debate about whether the freedoms under the 1958 Convention include the freedom to exploit the resources of the seabed and subsoil of what subsequently became known as the Area. Scholars such as Brown (2001, pp. 14–22), Burton (1977, pp. 1135–1180), Kronmiller (1980, pp. 369–418), and Murphy (1979, pp. 531–554), adopting a position favoured by developed states, argued that once upon a time deep seabed mining was one of the freedoms of the sea. They point out that the provisions of the 1958 Convention made room for additional freedoms of the high seas recognized by international law, including the freedom of deep seabed mining. Brown, for instance, alludes to the International Law Commission (ILC) travaux preparatoires, which identified deep seabed mining as one of the freedoms of the high seas. He also argued that there was no rule under international law prohibiting deep seabed mining as a freedom of the seas (Brown, 2001, pp. 21–22). Mahmoudi, adopting a position favored by developing states, pointed out that the omnibus phrase of “other freedoms which are recognised by the general principles of international law” in the High Seas Convention did not include deep seabed mining because there is no evidence that this was generally accepted by state practice recognizing it as such (Mahmoudi, 1987, pp. 103–115). He argued that the other freedoms in Article 2 that the ILC had in mind were the freedom of scientific research and freedom of undertaking nuclear tests on the high seas for which there was sufficient state practice (1987, p. 109). On the question of whether the freedom of the seas could be extended to deep seabed mining because it was not expressly prohibited, Mahmoudi was of the view that, for an act to be valid under international law, it must not only satisfy the status of non-prohibition but must also be generally accepted by state practice. He further argued that though the travaux preparatoires of a treaty play a role as an aid in the interpretation of the treaty, it cannot replace the requisite state practice in determining whether a principle is a part of customary international law (1987, pp. 112–115).

Interestingly, a number of scholars of the former Soviet Union, using the theory of common use, supported the position of Brown and other scholars and argued that the seabed beyond the outer limits of the CS should have the same status in international law as the high seas (Butler, 1971, p. 164).

The position that the Area is res communis was abandoned with the adoption of the LOSC 1982, which declares this part of the sea as the common heritage of mankind (Art.136).

UNCLOS III and the LOSC 1982

The UNCLOS III, a response to the need to accommodate developing states unable to participate in the earlier efforts at formulating the traditional law of the sea, was also necessary to deal with certain outstanding issues. It was needed not only to deal with the issue of the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction (which assumed prominence with the speech of Arvid Pardo and the improvement of technology opening up the possibility of mining the deep seabed), but also other outstanding issues from UNCLOS I and II, such as the breadth of the territorial sea and fishery zones. In addition, the fragmentation of the 1958 Law of the Sea Conventions resulted in an uncoordinated law of the sea policy whereby states had the latitude to choose to sign one convention and reject another. As a result, it was felt there was a need for a single convention covering the various aspects of the law of the sea since the problems of the sea are closely interrelated and ought to be considered as a whole.

UNCLOS III, involving diverse states from various parts of the globe, including a number of developing states, lasted for nine years (1973–1982) and ended with the adoption of the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) at Montego Bay, Jamaica on December 10, 1982 (Official Records UNCLOS III Vol. XVI, pp. 152–167). Payoyo described the UNCLOS III as the “most gigantic redistributive undertaking in modern history” (Payoyo, 1997, p. 49). In a series of articles written for the American Journal of International Law between 1974 and 1982, Bernard Oxman, initially writing with John Stevenson, both members of the American delegation to the UNCLOS III, provided interesting first hand insights into the various negotiating sessions of the UNCLOS III (Oxman & Stevenson, 1974, pp. 1–32; Oxman & Stevenson, 1975a, pp. 1–30; Oxman & Stevenson, 1975b, pp. 763–797; Oxman, 1977, pp. 247–269; Oxman, 1978, pp. 57–83; Oxman, 1980, pp. 1–47; Oxman, 1981, pp. 211–256; Oxman, 1982, pp. 1–23). The output of the Conference, the LOSC 1982, a multilateral Convention, consisting of 320 Articles, 17 Parts, and 9 Annexes, the result of a package deal involving trade-offs and compromise, was designed to be a comprehensive document covering different aspects of the sea (Buzan, 1981, pp. 324–348; Caminos & Molitor, 1985, pp. 871–890). It was described by Ambassador Koh, the President of the Conference at its final session as a “Constitution for the Oceans” (Nordquist, 1985, pp. 11–16).

After a very active participation at the UNCLOS III, the United States of America and some other developed states rejected the outcome of the conference—LOSC 1982—because of concerns about certain provisions included in Part XI (dealing with the regime of the Area) (Brown, 1995, pp. 5–20; Koskenniemi & Lehto, 1996, p. 543; Oxman, 1994, pp. 687–696). However, these concerns were addressed subsequently by the 1994 Agreement Relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the 1994 Implementation Agreement) (see Freestone and Oude Elferink, in Oude Elferink, 2005, pp. 184–190). The developing states that had pushed for the Part XI version of the regime were willing to accept the 1994 Implementation Agreement, which according to Anand took out the “lustre and soul” from the principle of the common heritage of mankind (1997, p. 17), because they realized that without the developed states on board they would be unable to finance the extensive regime and institutional framework created by the LOSC (Marffy-Mantuano, 1995, p. 815).

Virtually all the developed states have since ratified the LOSC, except the United States, which has so far failed to do so due to domestic politics and the constitutional provisions requiring the senate to be involved in treaty ratification (Bederman, 2008, pp, 21–27; Duff, 2004, pp. 195–219; UN Division of Ocean Affairs, ratification status of LOSC, 2019).

Maritime Zones

Under the LOSC, a large chunk of the sea has been partitioned amongst the coastal states (Kwiatkowska, 1991, pp. 153–187). Friedmann (1971), in an article titled “Selden Redivivus: Towards a Partition of the Seas?” written long before the LOSC was adopted, had warned that the era of mare liberum (open sea) was drawing to a close and suggested that there was now a return to the concept of mare clausum (closed sea) advocated by Selden (1971, p. 763).

For instance, under the LOSC the territorial sea has been fixed at 12 nautical miles (Art. 3), a compromise between states making various claims, ranging from the rather narrow 3 nautical miles (mainly by developed maritime powers keen on restricting the areas of the sea within the sovereignty of the coastal state to have more “open seas” subject to freedom of navigation) to the rather wide 200 nautical miles (mainly by developing states keen for more of the sea to be “closed seas,” to extend their sovereignty over the sea) (Churchill & Lowe, 1999, pp. 77–81).

The LOSC, though more precise about the outer limits of the Continental Shelf (CS), makes rather generous provisions for the extension of the CS to a distance of 200 nautical miles for coastal states that are not naturally endowed. For broad shelf states, it allows for a CS beyond 200 nautical miles, up to a maximum limit of 350 nautical miles from the baselines (this limit does not apply to submarine elevations that are natural components of the continental margin such as plateaus, rises, caps, banks, and spurs) or 100 nautical miles from the 2,500-metre isobath (Art.76).2 It also makes provision for a new maritime zone, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), an area beyond but adjacent to the territorial sea, that does not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines. The EEZ, like the CS, is a functional regime that gives the coastal state exclusive sovereign rights to exploit for natural resources, while at the same time allowing other states to exercise freedoms of the high seas as freedom of navigation, over flight, and laying of submarine cables and pipelines (Part V, Arts. 55–75) (Kratochwil, 1986, pp. 48–50). However, the EEZ, unlike the CS, allows for exploration and exploitation of not only non-living but also living resources in the seabed and subsoil, as well as the superjacent waters. In addition, in the EEZ, there is an emphasis on the need for the coastal state to conserve and manage the natural resources in the EEZ (Arts. 61–67). There is sometimes a tension in these functional maritime zones between the sovereign rights of the coastal State and the rights of ships of other States to exercise their rights to freedoms of the sea (Rothwell, Oude Elferink, Scott, & Stephens, 2015, pp. 159–202).

Further, the LOSC creates a new maritime zone, the deep seabed beyond National Jurisdiction (the Area) and declares the Area and its resources the common heritage of mankind and therefore not subject to claims of sovereignty by any state or subject to appropriation by any state or natural or juridical person and to be used only for peaceful purposes (Arts. 136, 137, and 141). It is to be managed on behalf of the international community by an international organization, the International Seabed Authority (ISBA), under rather complex provisions under Part XI of the LOSC and the 1994 Implementation Agreement (Egede, 2011, pp. 128–164; Rothwell et al., 2015, pp. 226–253).

Even the high seas, though still subject to the freedom of the seas, operate on a rather different concept from the traditional freedom of the seas. For instance, though it is clear under international law that all states have the freedom of fishing on the high seas, this right is not absolute because of the need to conserve and manage the living stock of the high seas (see Part VII, Section 2, of LOSC). Due to the LOSC not having comprehensive provisions dealing with the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, a 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks was adopted (Anderson, 1996, pp. 463–475). The Agreement came into force on December 11, 2001.

Boczek, examining the issue of the partitioning of the sea from an ideological perspective, points out that it was merely a dimension of the ideological confrontation between the North and the South, with the South specifically challenging the traditional freedom of the seas and pushing for more of the sea to be closed seas or the common heritage of mankind. This was purportedly in the hope that this will aid in the restructuring of the international system in favor of the South in line with the New International Economic Order (NIEO) ideology (Boczek, 1984, pp. 1–30). He points out, paradoxically, that rather than promoting a more equitable distribution of ocean resources in line with the NIEO, the partition of the sea under the LOSC appears to have contributed to deepening the inequalities between developing states, especially between coastal developing states with access to these maritime zones and those that are landlocked, with limited sometimes non-existent access to the maritime zones now within the national jurisdiction of neighboring coastal states. This may be attributed to the preference of developing states to have more extensive parts of the sea under national jurisdiction to the detriment of the common heritage of mankind (Boczek, 1984, pp. 28–29; Danziq, 1975, 655–664). Boczek stated:

Although the NIEO ideology has precipitated profound changes in the law of the sea, it has not significantly contributed to the realization of a more equitable international economic order. There is a dilemma between the internationalist claims of developing countries for equity in the law of the sea and their continued and even stronger insistence on national sovereignty and independence. How to solve this dilemma remains the fundamental problem not only of the law of the sea, but also of international law in general.

(Boczek, 1984, p. 30)

Delimitation of Maritime Zones

With the evolution of various maritime zones, the need to delimit overlapping maritime zones within national jurisdictions between either adjacent or opposite coastal States has become a crucial issue in the Law of the Sea. Tanaka pointed out that “[w]ithout rules on maritime delimitation in spaces where coastal State jurisdictions overlap, coastal States cannot enjoy the legal uses of maritime spaces effectively. Hence the law of maritime delimitation is of paramount importance in the law of the sea” (Tanaka, 2015, p. 1). Maritime boundary delimitation by its very nature is not a unilateral one, but necessarily involves two or more States. This was highlighted by the Chamber of the International Court of Justice in the Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary in the Gulf of Maine Area (Canada v. United States of America, 1984) ICJ Rep., p. 299 at para. 112, where the Court said: “No maritime delimitation between States with opposite or adjacent coasts may be effected unilaterally by one of those States.” Although, some maritime boundary delimitation issues have been settled by the means of agreements between the States involved after negotiations in good faith by the parties, some have had to be settled through recourse to third-party dispute settlement mechanisms. (See Articles 15, 74[1] and 83[1] of LOSC 82) (Tanaka, 2015, pp. 196–228). Thus, the law of the sea in this area is replete with a number of decisions of International Courts and arbitral tribunals settling maritime boundary disputes between States, leading Charney (1998, p. 316), a scholar who has written extensively on this subject, to note that “International maritime boundaries are, perhaps, the most litigated of any other contemporary international law subject.”

Pending an arrival at an agreement on delimitation of the EEZ and CS, the LOSC (Articles 74[3] and 83[3]) encourages States to engage in provisional joint development agreements in a spirit of understanding and cooperation. Such joint development arrangements, however, shall be without prejudice to the final delimitation. Although, a number of States have entered into such provisional joint development Agreements in various regions of the world, some are having the challenge of establishing rather costly joint development institutional framework and subsequently discovering that such joint development areas may not be actually be as commercially viable (Ong, 1999, pp. 771–804 and Schofield, 2014, pp. 78–98).

Era of Institutionalization

The coming into force of the LOSC 1982 initiated an era of the institutionalization of the law of the sea. Although institutions outside the institutional framework of the LOSC such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (with its numerous decisions in cases between states related law of the sea), the General Assembly (with its debates and various resolutions on issues related to the law of the sea), and the UN Secretary-General (with his now renowned annual report to the General Assembly on virtually all aspects of the law of the sea) play a vital role in the development of the law of the sea, the LOSC set up specialized institutions to deal with specific aspects of the implementation of the Convention. The specialized institutions set up under the LOSC are the States Parties of the LOSC (SPLOS) (See Treves in Oude Elferink (2005, pp. 55–74), the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) (Egede, 2004, pp. 157–178; Egede, 2006, pp. 33–55; McDorman, 2002, pp. 301–324; Oude Elferink 2002, pp. 497–498), the International Seabed Authority (ISBA) (Anton 1998, pp. 341–371; Borgese, 2001, pp. 391–397; Churchill & Lowe, 1999, pp. 239–240; Scovazzi, 2004, pp. 383–409), and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) (Adede, 1987; Brown, 1997, pp. 17–43; Eiriksson, 2000; Mensah, 1997, pp. 325–340). This section is not the place for an exhaustive examination of these institutions, but merely examines some interesting perspectives of some scholars in relation to some of these institutions.

Some scholars have argued against the need to establish additional institutions when existing institutions could have carried out the same task. For instance, on the ITLOS, two scholars, Judges Oda and Guillame, both interestingly judges of the ICJ at one time, have argued that the ITLOS is an unnecessary institution and that the ICJ should have been given the central role in dispute settlement under the LOSC (Guillaume, 1995, pp. 848–862; Oda, 1995, pp. 863–872). That is not to say that the ICJ does not presently play a role under the LOSC, as States under Part XV of the LOSC have the option of choosing either the ITLOS, the ICJ, or an arbitral tribunal as the appropriate procedure for settlement of disputes (Art. 287). Boyle explained that it was impossible to confer the ICJ with exclusive jurisdiction over ocean disputes because of the objection of certain states at UNCLOS III. What he called “the Cafeteria approach,” of giving states various options, including the establishment of ITLOS, was a compromise deal to meet the objections of these states (Boyle, 1997, pp. 40–41). For instance, the former Soviet Union was opposed to any form of judicial settlement, but was happy to accept arbitration. A number of developing states, and a few developed states, like France, were not ready to accept the ICJ, but were happy for a new specialized tribunal for the law of the sea to be set up, while a number of other states were not opposed in principle to any particular procedure. Consequently, the drafters had to put together conventional provisions that gave the States parties the option to pick and choose the dispute settlement procedure they are comfortable with (Boyle, 1997, pp. 40–41).

Judge Treves pointed out that, though the drafters were aware of existing institutions that could potentially undertake the tasks necessary for implementing the Convention, they decided to establish the institutions “to carry out tasks the existing organizations could not undertake, or which in their view they should not undertake” (Treves, 1998, pp. 325–326).

However, it could be said that the ISBA, an international institution to act on behalf of States parties as a type of trustee of the unique and novel maritime zone under the LOSC, the Area, and its resources has a task that no existing organization could undertake (Art. 137). This rather distinctive institution has as its principal organs a plenary Assembly, a Council made up of 36 members, and a Secretariat. It also has subsidiary organs of the Council, namely the Legal and Technical Commission, presently also carrying out the role of what was to have been the Economic Planning Commission, and also the Finance Committee, created by the 1994 Implementation Agreement. Further, there is the Enterprise, which is the seabed-mining corporation of the ISA, whose functions are presently being carried out by the Secretariat (Art. 158–170; Annex of 1994 Agreement, section 1[4] and section 2[1]). The ISBA’s main role is to organize and control activities in the Area, particularly with a view to administering the resources therein, and to share the financial and economic benefits derived from the Area and the contributions from exploitations of the CS beyond 200 nautical miles among States parties based on a non-discriminatory sharing formula (Arts. 82, 140, and 157).

Under the LOSC, resources of the Area are defined as “all solid, liquid, or gaseous mineral resources in situ in the area at or beneath the sea-bed, including polymetallic nodules,” which when recovered are referred to as “minerals” (Art. 133 [a] and [b]). This rather restricted definition of the resources of the Area limits the ISBA to mineral-related activities. Presently, the use of the Area for other activities, such as pipeline and cable laying and scientific research (unconnected with exploitation of seabed mineral resources), which fall under the freedoms of the high seas (Art. 87), are matters outside the competence of the ISBA (Churchill & Lowe, 1999, pp. 239–240). This is also the case with the regulation of the exploration for and exploitation of the valuable genetic resources that abound in the Area (Anton, 1998, pp. 341–371; Borgese, 2001, pp. 391–397; Scovazzi, 2004, pp. 383–409).

Borgese, a western scholar sympathetic to the position of developing states, makes a case for an expanded role for the ISBA (2001, pp. 391–397). She argued for the ISBA’s competence to be expanded to cover the tremendous genetic resources within the Area with vast potential markets in such industries as the pharmaceutical, waste treatment, food processing, oil-well services, and paper processing industries. She contends that, although the present definition of natural resources is not wide enough to cover genetic resources, it is a lacuna that must be filled to provide for the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources and encourage the participation of developing states in the bio-industries and international cooperation in technology development in this sector (Borgese, 2001, p. 395; Scovazzi, 2004, pp. 383–409). In addition, she suggested an expanded role for the ISBA with regard to the service sector being developed within the Area. She argued that the ISBA should have a regulatory role over the telecommunications industry in respect to cables laid in the Area and, in return, should be entitled to impose a minimal tax in respect to those cables that would generate income (Borgese, 2001, p. 396). She compared this with the regulatory powers exercised by coastal states in respect to the laying, routing, and maintenance of cables on their continental shelves (Art. 79 of LOSC) (2001, pp. 396–397). Further, she identified that certain developed states were using the Area for the construction of permanent deep-sea ocean floor observatories to aid deep-sea research and advocated that the ISBA be given the mandate to keep a register of these observatories and to regulate them (Borgese, 2001, p. 396). However, Borgese recognized that the rather limited definition of natural resources under the LOSC was a constraint to such an expanded role for the ISBA and called for the expansion of the competence of the ISBA “through an evolutionary and co-operative approach and the adoption of Protocols as may be required” (2001, p. 397). She contended that this was needed so the ISBA may adapt to changing times while remaining faithful to the principle of the common heritage of mankind so that new resources and uses may be utilized for the benefit of mankind as a whole, with particular consideration of the needs of poor states (2001, p. 397). Such expanded role can only be conferred either by amending the LOSC, through the so far unused and rather complicated amendment procedures of the Convention, or through the utilized, but similarly complicated means of an “implementation” Agreement (in reality an amendment instrument), similar to the 1994 Agreement (Freestone and Oude Elferink in Oude Elferink, 2005, pp. 169–221).

Trends in Contemporary Law of the Sea

There have been some interesting developments in contemporary law of the sea, some of which are discussed in this section.

Maritime Security

Even though maritime security has been described as “one of the latest buzzwords of international relations” (Bueger, 2015, p. 159), arguably there is nothing new about maritime security as it underpins a large chunk of the development of the law of the sea. For instance, as mentioned in the section on the “Great Debate: Open Versus Closed Seas,” the whole idea of the territorial sea and the so-called cannon-shot rule of measuring this part of the sea was based on the security of the coastal State. Additionally, the conception of freedom of navigation of the high seas, though originally put forward by Grotius based on the economic ground of allowing the Dutch to enjoy access by seas to rich pickings in the East Indian trade, was subsequently utilized to provide justification for big naval powers, in their pursuit of maritime security, to patrol the high seas freely. Furthermore, the age-long perception of pirates as “enemies of the human race” (Le Louis case [1817] 2 Dods at 210) and the understanding of piracy as an international crime depicts that maritime security has always been an intrinsic part of the law of the sea. Arguably, what is new about the growing notion of maritime security as a discipline is the shift from focusing on maritime security mainly from the perspective of States actors to an increasing engagement with non-state actors, including maritime security actors, such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and private maritime security companies (PMSCs), the perpetrators of a wide variety of maritime security crimes, such as pirates and armed robbers at sea, private fishing trawlers engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, terrorist groups using the sea to carry out their dastardly acts, and gangs involved in illegal trafficking of people and migrants at sea. Also, the current engagement with maritime security has a robust human security aspect focusing on the rights of victims of maritime crimes, such as hostages held by pirates for ransom and the vulnerable migrants at sea (Bueger, 2015, pp. 160–161). Theoretically, this appears to be a shift, from the previous rather realist maritime security approach to a more liberalist perspective, recognizing that maritime security should not be limited to States, but should also engage with non-State actors.

Kraska and Pedrozo (2013, pp. 5–10) point to the fact that in the Cold War era maritime security was principally focused on the naval sea power of States. However, they acknowledge in contemporary times that maritime security goes beyond this. It must be noted, however, that even post-Cold War, there are still naval sea power maritime security issues that arise from time to time. A notable example of this has arisen in the South China Seas. China’s disputed nine-dash line claim in the South China Seas, based on historic rights, in essence incorporates as part of China’s national waters certain areas of the seas that, under the LOSC 82, would be subject to the freedoms of the high seas, including freedom of navigation (Dupuy & Dupuy, 2013, pp. 124–141; Gao & Jia, 2013, pp. 98–124; Zou, 2012, pp. 18–34). Although, the nine-dash line claim was declared by a 2016 decision of the arbitral tribunal in the South China Sea Arbitration (Philippians v. China) as incompatible with the LOSC 82, China declined to participate in the arbitral proceedings and has consistently contested the decision of the tribunal (Kopela, 2017, pp. 181–207; McDorman, 2018, pp. 134–145). The nine-dash line claim has led to some tension between the U.S. Navy, challenging this claim under its freedom of navigation (FON) operations, and that of China Navy (Odom, 2019, pp. 171–194).

A key point highlighted by some of the literature is that the concept of maritime security is a contested one. Klein pointed out that “[t]he term ‘maritime security’ has different meanings depending on who is using the term or in what context it is being used” (Klein, 2011, p. 4). Bueger (2015, pp. 159–164) sought to explore the different ways in which maritime security could be understood. Germond (2015, p. 138), exploring the geo-political dimension of maritime security, pointed out that “[m]aritime security has to do with (illegal and disruptive) human activities in the maritime milieu, that is to say a certain geographically delimited space. Thus, states are differently impacted by maritime security threats depending on their actual geographical location.”

Academic discourse in the 21st century on maritime security has been generated by piratical activities in East Asia, East Africa, especially off the coast of Somalia, around the Gulf of Aden, and in West Africa, in the Gulf of Guinea. Piracy is defined by article 101 of the LOSC 82, but in practice what exactly constitutes piracy may sometimes be unclear. First, it must be noted that piratical acts within national waters would not be regarded as piracy, but the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention) designates such piratical acts as armed robbery at sea. Then again, there are stimulating issues that could arise from engaging with the definition of piracy. For instance, would hostile actions between fishing vessels involving violence by the crew of one fishing vessel against the other and its crew in the high seas or outside the national jurisdiction of a State, to prevent the latter vessel from fishing in the same area, be regarded as piracy? Would violence against a whaling ship by environmental protesters be piracy? Would violent acts committed by passengers or crew of a ship against their own ship be piracy? Is maritime terrorism the same as piracy? (Churchill, 2014, pp. 9–32; Guilfoyle, 2014, pp. 33–52). It must be further noted that, due to the heinous nature of piracy, it is generally understood that there is universal jurisdiction in international law over the crime (i.e., any State may exercise jurisdiction in respect to piracy—see Art. 105 of LOSC) (Kontorovich & Art, 2010, pp. 436–453). However, some scholars, such as Kontorovich, have challenged the assumption that piracy is a crime subject to universal jurisdiction (2004, pp. 183–237).

A notable outcome of the resurgence of piracy is the adoption of Regional Cooperation Agreements, developed by States in various regions with the assistance of the IMO, namely, for the Asian region, the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) 2004; for the East African region, the Djibouti Code of Conduct 2009, as modified by the Jeddah amendment in 2017; and for the Gulf of Guinea, the Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships, and Illicit Maritime Activity in West and Central Africa (the Yaoundé Code of Conduct) 2013. Furthermore, some regions of the world and countries have adopted maritime security strategies, such as the European Union Maritime Security Strategy, adopted in 2014, and the Indian Maritime Strategy, adopted in 2015.

Blue Economy

The concept of Blue Economy (sometimes used interchangeably with other terminologies such as Blue Growth Economy, Marine Economy, and Ocean Economy) broadly connotes harnessing the resources of the ocean and seas (and sometimes rivers, lakes, and other internal waters) for sustainable development. Like maritime security, mentioned above, there is no precision in its definition, as different parts of the world would have distinctive areas of emphasis as regard this concept (Keen, Schwarz, & Wini-Simeon, 2018, pp. 333–441; Silver, Gray, Campbell, Fairbanks, & Gruby, 2015, pp. 135–160; Smith-Godfrey, 2016, pp. 58–64). It therefore may cover using the ocean as a resource of wealth production (through activities, such as the exploitation of offshore exploitation of mineral resources, fisheries, marine tourism, offshore renewable energy, and biotechnology), as well as promoting the environmental sustainability of the ocean (such as reducing ocean plastic pollution; see Commonwealth Blue Charter, 2018; OECD, 2016; UNECA, 2016). There is a crucial linkage between the Blue Economy and Maritime Security based on the understanding that there can be no development of the Blue Economy in an environment of Maritime (in)security (Voyer, Schofield, Azmi, Warner, McIlgorm, & Quirk, 2018, pp. 28–48). This Blue Economy/Maritime Security nexus is reflected, for instance, in Maritime Security instruments that have been adopted in Africa, such as the 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy of 2014; the Djibouti Code of Conduct 2009 as amended by the Jeddah amendment in 2017, and the Yaoundé Code of Conduct of 2013.

Marine Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ)

Over the years, with technological developments, the value of marine biological diversity, especially marine genetic resources (MGRs) with unique and commercially beneficial genetic characteristics, notably those located in the deep seabed area beyond national jurisdiction, has become a prominent issue in the law of the sea (Glowka, 1996, pp. 154–178; Leary, Vierros, Hamon, Arico, & Monagle, 2009, pp. 185–187). States and scholars have taken opposing views as to the regime applicable to the MGR beyond national jurisdiction as existing legal instruments, such as the LOSC 82 and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 1992, contain limited and vague provisions to cover this issue. Some States and scholars take the position that the principle of the Common Heritage of Mankind (CHM) under the LOSC 82 should be extended to also cover MGRs, while others have argued that under LOSC 82 the principle of freedom of the high seas was applicable, thereby giving unrestricted access to exploitation of the MGRs. Some other States and scholars have contended that there is a gap, which requires the development of a new instrument for MGRs beyond national jurisdiction (Armas-Pfirter, 2009, pp. 281–307; de La Fayette, 2009, pp. 221–280; Oude Elferink, 2012, pp. 205–259). After an almost decade-long meeting of an ad hoc, open-ended informal working group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction, a Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) was convened in 2016 by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 69/292, to develop an internationally legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. After four sessions, the PrepCom sent its report to the UN General Assembly, which convened by resolution 72/249 of December 24, 2017, an Intergovernmental Conference to consider the recommendations of the PrepCom, with a view to developing the instrument as soon as possible. The divide between those who maintain that MGRs are part of the CHM regime and others who argue that it is not is an ongoing issue (Leary, 2019, pp. 21–29).

China 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road

The 21st century maritime silk road is an ocean-based Chinese initiative. Chinese President Xi Jinping, drawing inspiration from the idea of the ancient Chinese Silk Road involving a network of trade routes connecting China to the Mediterranean via Eurasia, announced in 2013 a grand plan for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) (initially known as One Belt One Road), consisting of a land-based aspect (silk road economic belt) and an ocean aspect (the 21st century maritime silk road), which would connect China with Asia, Africa, and Europe. The intention of the 21st century maritime silk road, is to promote economic co-operation and connectivity, primarily through infrastructure investments, in countries along the proposed maritime routes of the BRI (Chan, 2019, pp. 1–20; Xi Jinping, 2017).

Benabdallah (2019), while acknowledging that the BRI was still in its developing stages, opined that:

China, via BRI, is engaging in a dialectic relationship with the international order composed of both defending the existing order and seeking to change it at the same time. A China-centred norm examined here was that development and economic growth are the foundation to achieving peace and security. This view differs from neoliberal order that takes governance practices and democratisation as necessary conditions for the success of international development.

(Benabdallah, 2019, p. 103)

It basically aims to eradicate poverty, create jobs, address the consequences of international financial crises, promote sustainable development, and advance market-based industrial transformation and economic diversification. However, some concerns have been raised on the high costs of loans from China for BRI projects, which has resulted in astronomical debts for the beneficiary States, with some of the latter States unable to repay the loans. Certain States have reportedly relinquished control over some of their national assets to China because of their inability to repay the loans. An example is the case of Sri Lanka, which is reported to have surrendered control over its Hambantota port to a Chinese-owned company because it was unable to repay its debt to China (Johnston, 2019, pp. 97–112).

Future Projections: Mare Clausum to Co-operative Arrangements?

The Law of the Sea has come a long way. From an area of international law developed by a few so-called civilized European states, it now has input from the generality of the international community, including developing states. In addition, the law of the sea has progressed from a subject covered by a handful of scholars from a few western states to one where scholarship is from a wide range of writers from various states, backgrounds, and culture.

From the predominance of mare liberum (open seas) as put forward by the famous Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius, the international community appears, with the widespread appropriation of large chunks of the sea as part of national jurisdiction, to be leaning toward mare clausum (closed seas). Is this, as Wolfgang Friedmann warned, a case of a returning to the concept of closed sea? (1971, p. 763)

Pardo, one of the main instigators of the move from the traditional law of the sea to modern law of the sea, posits that he did not foresee a rebirth of the traditional Grotian freedom of the seas. He projected, however, that scientific and technological advancement (which ironically led to the partition of the sea) will, due to its use or misuse, encourage coastal states to realize the need for new forms of cooperation in respect to sea uses, such as protection of the environment and commercial navigation. This he anticipated would cause the tide of excessive nationalism over the seas to recede, leading to a redefinition of the concept of sovereignty in respect to ocean use (1984, pp. 16–17). He ends this 1984 piece on a rather visionary note:

Whatever the future may bring, one thing is certain: The law of the sea will continue to evolve under the pressure of the perceived security, economic, and political needs of the most influential members of the international community. The conference [UNCLOS III] recently concluded is not an end but rather the beginning of a long process which eventually must lead to a more cooperative and equitable world order if mankind is to survive.

(Pardo, 1984, p. 17)

There are indications of such cooperation among states in different areas of ocean use. For instance, there is the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, with 75 parties, as an example of such cooperative arrangements. Also, there is the idea of joint development arrangements with regard to overlapping maritime boundaries between States, pending the amicable settlement of the boundary delimitation. Furthermore, there are the evolving maritime security communities in certain regions of the world that are promoting cooperative actions between interested States and even non-State actors with regard to maritime security threats. It is therefore likely that cooperative arrangements with regard to different areas of the law of the sea will be more prevalent. It is probable there would be more emphasis in literature in the law of the sea on cooperative arrangements among States parties to the LOSC, rather than on the exercise of creeping national jurisdiction by these states over the seas. In addition, there is a probability of more literature engaged in the redefinition of the concept of sovereignty, so cooperative arrangements among states would be encouraged (Chan, 2018, pp. 537–555). Perhaps literature, rather than being focused on mare liberum or mare clausum, would move towards mare reservarum (Russ & Zeller, 2003, pp. 75–78 and Kerr, Johnson, Colton, Wright, & Weir, 2017, pp. 80–98).

Further Reading

Bari, A. (2017). Our oceans and the blue economy: Opportunities and challenges. Procedia Engineering 194, 5–11.Find this resource:

Charney, J. I. (1994). Progress on international maritime boundary delimitation law. American Journal of International Law, 88(2), 227–256.Find this resource:

Charney, J. I., & Alexander, L. M. (Eds.). (1997). International Maritime Boundaries (Vol. 3). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.Find this resource:

Charney, J. I., & Alexander, L. M. (Eds.). (1991). International maritime boundaries (Vols. 1 & 2). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.Find this resource:

Chinese Society of International Law. (2018). The South China Sea Arbitration Awards: A critical study.” Chinese Journal of International Law, 17(2), 207–748.Find this resource:

Evans, M. D. (1989). Relevant circumstances and maritime delimitation. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon.Find this resource:

Harrison, J. (2013). Making the law of the sea: A study in the development of international law. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Proelss, A. (Eds.). (2017). The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: A commentary. Oxford, U.K.: Bloomsbury.Find this resource:

Rothwell, D. R., Oude Elferink A. G., Scott, K. N., & Stephens, T. (Eds.). (2015). The Oxford handbook of the law of the sea. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Symmons C. R. (2018). Historic waters and historic rights in the law of the sea: A modern reappraisal (2nd ed.). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.Find this resource:

Tanaka, Y. (2006). Predictability and flexibility in the law of maritime delimitation. Oxford, U.K.: Hart.Find this resource:

Walker, G. K., & Noyes, J. E. (2002). Definitions for the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, Part I. California Western International Law Journal, 33, 191–324.Find this resource:

Walker, G. K., & Noyes, J. E. (2001–2002). Definitions for the 1982 law of the Sea Convention, Part I. California Western International Law Journal, 32, 343–386.Find this resource:

References

Adede, A. O. (1987). The system for settlement of disputes under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: A drafting history and a commentary. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.Find this resource:

Akintoba, T. O. (1997). African states and contemporary international law: A case study of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and the exclusive economic zone. The Hague, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.Find this resource:

Anand, R. P. (Ed.). (1980). Law of the sea: Caracas and beyond. The Hague, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.Find this resource:

Anand, R. P. (1982). Origin and development of the law of the sea (history of international law revisited). The Hague, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.Find this resource:

Anand, R. P. (1987). International law and the developing countries: Confrontation or co-operation? Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.Find this resource:

Anand, R. P. (1997). Common heritage of mankind: Mutilation of an ideal. Indian Journal of International Law, 37, 1–18.Find this resource:

Anand, R. P. (2000). Non-European sources of Law of the Sea. Pacem in Maribus XXVIII, 9–20.Find this resource:

Anderson, D. H. (1996). The straddling stocks agreement of 1995: An initial assessment. International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 45, 463–475.Find this resource:

Anghie, A., & Chimni, B. S. (2003). Third world approaches to international law and individual responsibility in internal conflicts. Chinese Journal of International Law, 2(1), 77–103.Find this resource:

Anton, D. K. (1998). Law of the Sea’s biological diversity. Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, 36, 341–371.Find this resource:

Armas-Pfirter, F. (2009). How can life in the deep sea be protected? International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law, 24, 281–307,Find this resource:

Bederman, D. J. (2008). The old isolationism and the new law of the sea: Reflections on advice and consent for UNCLOS. Harvard International Law Journal Online, 49, 21–27.Find this resource:

Benabdallah, L. (2019). Contesting the international order by integrating it: The case of China’s Belt and Road initiative. Third World Quarterly, 40(1), 92–108.Find this resource:

Boczek, B. A. (1984). Ideology and the Law of the Sea: The challenge of the new international economic order. Boston College International and Comparative Law Review, 7 (1), 1–30.Find this resource:

Borgese, E. M. (2001). Caird Medal Address. Marine Policy, 25(6), 391–397.Find this resource:

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Notes:

(1.) One nautical mile = 1,852 meters. Low-water mark is the level reached by seawater at low tide.

(2.) Isobath is a line connecting the depth of 2,500 meters.