ICWA hosted National Consultations on 1982 UNCLOS: Issues of Safety, Security and Sustainable use of Ocean Resources in the Indian Ocean Region on 6 August 2020.
- The Consultations were held in pursuance of the deliberations at the IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) 6th Indian Ocean Dialogue held in December 2019, co-hosted by ICWA and the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, wherein the ICWA had proposed capacity building of IORA Member States on 1982 UNCLOS which would be a catalytic for building a safe, secure and stable maritime domain in the Indian Ocean Region through cooperation among IORA member States and other expert institutions.
- Eminent Indian practitioners, experts and scholars made presentations on (a) Law of the Sea, Dispute Resolution and Issues of Freedom of Navigation; (b) Sustainable Fisheries and IUU fishing; and (c) Marine Environment and Issues of Marine Scientific Research. Three keynote speeches by Dr. Narinder Singh, Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India; Justice Neeru Chadha, Judge, International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), Hamburg, Germany; and Professor Bimal Patel, Director General, Raksha Shakti University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat preceded the presentations.
- The participants were of the view that the 1982 UNCLOS is a comprehensive legal regime which has facilitated ‘order at sea’ through established mechanism and a rules-based international legal regime. It has spelt out various rights, duties and responsibilities of the signatories to the 1982 UNCLOS with regard to commercial, military, and scientific activities, and emphasised issues concerning environment and health of the oceans. The settlement of disputes through established mechanisms has been robust and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and Arbitral Tribunal that can be constituted in accordance with Annex VII and Annex VIII have served their purpose well.
- However there are differences in opinion and disagreements among signatories over these issues due to varying interpretations of the 1982 UNCLOS that arise from varied national interests and non-alignment of domestic legislations with international law. The latter can potentially be a source of destabilization due to re-interpretations of maritime zones set out in the 1982 UNCLOS and forceful assertion of maritime jurisdictions based on domestic norms. At another level, the behavioural aspects of signatories to the 1982 UNCLOS which challenge the legal regime and the established international adjudication mechanism are an issue of concern.
- It was acknowledged that ‘Freedom of Navigation’ (FoN) is one of the oldest and universally recognised principles under the 1982 UNCLOS. There is an international consensus on the applicability of FoN to merchant ships, however some States interpret it differently in respect of warships and military aircraft including auxiliaries. These States adopt restrictive practices which can potentially be a cause for friction.
- It was recognized and agreed that Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU Fishing) is all-pervasive and impacts adversely on sustainability of marine fisheries resources. It was noted that the perpetrators of IUU fishing have undermined global, regional and national efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks. This is despite the adoption of numerous resolutions by the United Nations General Assembly to uphold sustainable fisheries. However, States are displaying high level of commitment and are taking action to fight and move towards IUU-free fisheries. The 1982 UNCLOS objectives of sustainable fisheries management are becoming increasingly important given that IUU fishing can trigger disputes especially between neighboring States.
- The view was expressed that Marine Scientific Research (MSR) contributes to the benefit of mankind as a whole. It helps coastal States to obtain information to evaluate the resources potential of their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) as also determine the health of the oceans. In this context, international scientific cooperation is increasingly important and helps coastal States that do not possess requisite technical capabilities and trained personnel. The legal framework established in the 1982 UNCLOS ensures a sensitive balance between the freedom of Marine Scientific Research (MSR) and the protection of interests of the coastal State. However, the scope of the MSR under the Convention treads into a grey area when States engage in scientific-military surveys in other States’ EEZs, which activities are seen as intrusive and challenge to the rights bestowed by the Convention on the concerned States.
- The focus of the 1982 UNCLOS on environmental issues is pivotal to the health of the oceans and seas. It emphasises ecological and habitat protection, contingency planning against pollution emergencies from vessel pollution and dumping of waste at sea. The prevention and control over dumping of marine litter and debris in the form of plastics and other materials that affects the marine life and livelihoods of fishermen is another issue that has caught the attention of States and calls for cooperation among countries.