From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : UNCLOS
Mains level : High seas regulation
A delegation from India and other member countries of the UN are in New York to deliberate on a one-of-its-kind agreement to conserve marine biodiversity in the high seas, namely the oceans that extend beyond countries’ territorial waters.
What is the news?
- The agreement follows a resolution by the UN General Assembly.
- The pact is expected to be the final in a series set in motion since 2018 to draft an international legally binding instrument under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Why need Ocean Diversity Pact?
(1) Deciding on rights of explorers
- A key aspect of the agreement is deciding on the rights of companies that undertake exploration for biological resources in the high seas.
- It is under discussion if companies have absolute rights on any discovery or extraction in these regions or should they share their gains, in terms of intellectual property and royalties with an UN-prescribed body.
(2) Regulation for exotic items
- The focus of mining activity in the sea has been for gas hydrates, precious metals and other fossil fuel
- However, with advances in biotechnology and genetic engineering, several companies see potential in exotic microbes and other organisms — several of them undiscovered — that abide in the deep ocean and could be used for drugs and vaccines.
(3) ‘Blue Economy’ policy of India
- The Union Cabinet approved a ‘Blue Economy’ policy for India, a nearly ₹4,000-crore programme spread over five years.
- This among other things will develop a manned submersible vessel as well as work on bio-prospecting of deep-sea flora and fauna including microbes.
- Studies on sustainable utilisation of deep sea bio-resources will be the main focus.
What is UNCLOS?
- UNCLOS is sometimes referred to as the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty.
- It came into operation and became effective from 16th November 1982.
- It defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
- It has created three new institutions on the international scene :
- International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea,
- International Seabed Authority
- Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf
Note: UNCLOS does not deal with matters of territorial disputes or to resolve issues of sovereignty, as that field is governed by rules of customary international law on the acquisition and loss of territory.
There had been three major conferences of UNCLOS:
- UNCLOS I: It resulted in the successful implementation of various conventions regarding Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zones, Continental Shelf, High Seas, Fishing Rights.
- UNCLOS II: No agreement was reached over breadth of territorial waters.
- UNCLOS III: It introduced a number of provisions. The most significant issues covered were setting limits, navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), continental shelf jurisdiction, deep seabed mining, the exploitation regime, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of disputes.
The convention set the limit of various areas, measured from a carefully defined baseline.
These terminologies are as follows:
- The convention set the limit of various areas, measured from a carefully defined baseline.
- Normally, a sea baseline follows the low-water line, but when the coastline is deeply indented, has fringing islands or is highly unstable, straight baselines may be used.
(2) Internal waters
- It covers all water and waterways on the landward side of the baseline.
- The coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource. Foreign vessels have no right of passage within internal waters.
- A vessel in the high seas assumes jurisdiction under the internal laws of its flag State.
(3) Territorial waters
- Out to 12 nautical miles (22 km, 14 miles) from the baseline, the coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource.
- Vessels were given the Right of Innocent Passage through any territorial waters.
- “Innocent passage” is defined by the convention as passing through waters in an expeditious and continuous manner, which is not “prejudicial to the peace, good order or the security” of the coastal state.
- Fishing, polluting, weapons practice, and spying are not “innocent”, and submarines and other underwater vehicles are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flag.
- Nations can also temporarily suspend innocent passage in specific areas of their territorial seas, if doing so is essential for the protection of their security.
(4) Archipelagic waters
- The convention set the definition of “Archipelagic States”, which also defines how the state can draw its territorial borders.
- All waters inside this baseline are designated “Archipelagic Waters”.
- The state has sovereignty over these waters mostly to the extent it has over internal waters, but subject to existing rights including traditional fishing rights of immediately adjacent states.
- Foreign vessels have right of innocent passage through archipelagic waters, but archipelagic states may limit innocent passage to designated sea lanes.
(5) Contiguous zone
- Beyond the 12-nautical-mile (22 km) limit, there is a further 12 nautical miles (22 km) from the territorial sea baseline limit, the contiguous zone.
- Here a state can continue to enforce laws in four specific areas (customs, taxation, immigration, and pollution) if the infringement started or is about to occur within the state’s territory or territorial waters.
- This makes the contiguous zone a hot pursuit area.
(6) Exclusive economic zones (EEZs)
- These extend 200 nm from the baseline.
- Within this area, the coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources.
- In casual use, the term may include the territorial sea and even the continental shelf.
(7) Continental shelf
- The continental shelf is defined as the natural prolongation of the land territory to the continental margin’s outer edge, or 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coastal state’s baseline, whichever is greater.
India and UNCLOS
- As a State party to the UNCLOS, India promoted utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which established the international legal order of the seas and oceans.
- India also supported freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded commerce based on the principles of international law, reflected notably in the UNCLOS 1982.
- India is committed to safeguarding maritime interests and strengthening security in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to ensure a favorable and positive maritime environment.