In pursuance of the Delhi Consensus, an outcome document of the 6th Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Indian Ocean Dialogue held at New Delhi on 13 December 2019, and the IORA Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security (WGMSS) established in August 2018, the Ministry of External Affairs of India in collaboration with the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi and the IORA Secretariat hosted the virtual “IORA Capacity Building Workshop on the 1982 UNCLOS” on 29 January 2021. 25 specialist speakers from 11 IORA Member States shared focused perspectives on four thematic issues under the 1982 UNCLOS, and nearly 200 participants from IORA Member States attended the Webinar.
2. The participants emphasized that the 1982 UNCLOS is a critical part of the rules-based international system and an essential component of global governance. It provides a legal framework for maritime claims, rules for freedom of navigation and offers a valuable means for dispute resolution. It also sets out obligations for bilateral, regional and international co-operation, including for the conservation and management of living resources, and for the protection and preservation of the marine environment. Furthermore, IORA countries should strengthen cooperation to preserve the integrity, inviolability and security of the global commons and uphold order at sea.
3. It was highlighted that the 1982 UNCLOS spells out various rights, duties and responsibilities with regard to navigation, exploitation of resources and scientific research. Also, outstanding maritime disputes need to be resolved through dialogue and on the basis of accepted principles of international law. The 1982 UNCLOS encourages States to enter into negotiations for the resolution of disputes through established mechanisms under the 1982 UNCLOS and provides a platform for fair settlement through peaceful means. IORA can contribute by creating awareness about such possibilities, by building technical capacities and by bridging the knowledge gap.
4. The participants acknowledged that under the 1982 UNCLOS ships enjoy ‘Freedom of Navigation’; however, States interpret it differently and adopt restrictive practices on movements and exercises by military vessels and insist on prior permissions, which can be a cause of friction. It was suggested that informal agreements, mutual trust and deeper understanding between contending parties can be a possible solution to such impediments.
5. It was recognized that resource development particularly fisheries is of high priority for IORA Member States. There is huge untapped fisheries potential in the Indian Ocean region and can result in enormous economic benefits for the Member States. However, IUU fishing is a major maritime security challenge and results in damage to the marine ecosystem as well as negative socio-economic impact on local communities. Cooperation on fisheries management among IORA Member States to cope with IUU fishing, and information sharing among maritime law enforcement agencies can help overcome IUU fishing. It was noted that the IORA has an important role to play in developing technical capacities to implement national policy and legislative frameworks and international instruments.
6. The participants agreed that protection of the maritime environment and Marine Scientific Research (MSR) are complex issues. Some of the major challenges confronting the Indian Ocean region are climate change, sea level rise, coastal erosion, micro-plastic contamination, loss of biodiversity, etc. which are significant issues of concern. It was suggested that, in line with the relevant provisions of 1982 UNCLOS, IORA Member States should work together to set up contingency planning mechanism against pollution and work towards greater technological exchanges and information and data sharing.