Convention on the Law of the Sea

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Convention on the Law of the Sea

History of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982

By Daniel Hollis

Introduction

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the most comprehensive attempt at creating a unified regime for governance of the rights of nations with respect to the world’s oceans. The treaty addresses a number of topics including navigational rights, economic rights, pollution of the seas, conservation of marine life, scientific exploration, piracy, and more. The treaty, one of the longest in history, is comprised of 320 articles and 9 annexes, representing the codification of customary international law and its progressive development. (United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982)

Historical Background

Since humanity first set forth upon the seas, the issue of sovereign control over the oceans has been an ongoing concern. Prior to the 20th century, the oceans had been subject to the freedom of the seas doctrine. This principle, adopted in the 17th century, limited national rights and jurisdiction over a narrow band of water along a nations coast, the rest of the sea being free to all and belonging to none. Nearly a century later, the “cannon-shot” rule became the basis for determining how much of the adjacent oceans were under the jurisdiction of a nation. The cannon-shot rule set forth that a nation controlled a territorial sea as far as a projectile could be fired from a cannon based on shore. In the 18th century this range was approximate three nautical miles. As time progressed, three miles became the widely accepted range for the territorial sea.[1]

Due to the slow pace of technological developments prior to the Industrial Revolution, these simple rules provided effective governance of the world’s oceans. With the technological developments of the mid-19th and early-20th centuries, however, not only did ships become more powerful, but technology allowed humanity to exploit ocean resources that had never before been envisioned. Fishermen, once limited to areas near their own coasts, were now equipped with vessels that could allow them to stay at sea for months at a time and capture fish harvests that were far from their native waters. Virtually unrestrained, fleets from around the world traveled to areas rich in fish-stocks. The lack of restraint on the part of these fishermen resulted in fish stocks around the world being depleted without regard to the stability of their numbers.[2]

Evolving technology also allowed for the exploitation of previously inaccessible off-shore resources, most notably oil (but also diamonds, gravel, and precious metals). To illustrate the rapidity of these developments, in 1947 off-shore oil production in the Gulf of Mexicowas still less than 1 million tons. By 1954, production had grown close to 400 million tons.[3] As a matter of perspective, just in the Gulf of Mexico, the United States alone currently produces 218,192 tons daily, for a total of 79.6 million tons annually, reflecting a steadily decreasing trend that began in the 1970’s.[4]

In order to protect local resources, be they biological or mineral, nations began expanding their claims of sovereignty beyond the traditional 3 mile limit. The first nation to challenge the long-standing freedom of the seas doctrine was the United States. On September 28, 1945, President Harry S. Truman signed what has become commonly known as the Truman Proclamation. The proclamation set a claim of sovereignty by the United States to the outer continental shelf (OCS) and the resources therein as well as establishing the right of the U.S. to establish conservations zones “in areas of the high seas contiguous to the coasts of the United States.”[5] While recognizing some limited sovereignty over an expanded region of the sea, the proclamation was careful to stipulate that the new US policy did not affect “the right [of] free and unimpeded navigation.”[6]

After the United States expanded its claim, it was not long before other nations followed suit. By 1950, Argentinawasactively claiming its continental shelf as well as the water column above it, Ecuador, Chile, and Peruwereasserting rights over a 200-mile zone in order to protect its biological resources from foreign fleets, and a spate of Arab and Eastern European nations were laying claim to a 12-mile territorial sea. There was a growing understanding, however, that such a fractured regime could not continue.[7]

UNCLOS I

Recognizing the conflicts that were resulting from the current regime, the General Assembly adopted resolution 1105 (XI), which called for the convening of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in Geneva in 1858. Eighty-six nations participated (now commonly referred to as UNCLOS I). The meeting produced four separate conventions[8]:

1) the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone (established sovereignty rights and rights of passage through the territorial sea, established the Contiguous Zone to extend 12 nautical miles from the baselines, but failed to set standards of limits on the territorial sea);[9] 2) the Convention on the High Seas (established access for landlocked nations, expounded on the concept of “flag state,” outlawed the transport of slaves, covered piracy, established safety and rescue protocols, established a national duty to prevent pollution, and established rights to laying of undersea cables and pipelines);[10] 3) the Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas (established the right of coastal nations to protect living ocean resources, required nations whose fleets leave their territorial sea to establish conservation measures, and established measures for dispute resolution);[11] 4) and the Convention on the Continental Shelf (established the regime governing the superjacent waters and airspace, the laying and maintenance of submarine cables or pipelines, the regime governing navigation, fishing, scientific research and the coastal nation’s competence in these areas, delimitation, and tunneling).[12]

The Convention also produced an Optional Protocol of Signature Concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes (provides for the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, or for submission of the dispute to arbitration or conciliation).[13] While UNCLOS I saw a significant development in the international legal regime governing the oceans, there were still many issues left unsettled.

UNCLOS II

In an attempt to deal with the issues that remained unresolved after UNCLOS I, the General Assembly called for a second United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (now commonly referred to as UNCLOS II). The parties met for just over a month in early 1960 with the objective of settling the question on the breadth of the territorial seas and fishery limits. While the conference adopted two resolutions, the parties were unable to come to consensus on the issues at hand.[14]

UNCLOS III

For information on UNCLOS III, please click here.

Countries

Ratifications

Ratifications in the Convention on the Law of the Sea (168 countries):

  • Albania (23 June 2003)
  • Algeria (11 June 1996)
  • Angola ( 5 December 1990)
  • Antigua and Barbuda ( 2 February 1989)
  • Argentina (1 December 1995)
  • Armenia (9 December 2002)
  • Australia (5 October 1994)
  • Austria (14 July 1995)
  • Azerbaijan (16 June 2016)
  • Bahamas (29 July 1983)
  • Bahrain (30 May 1985)
  • Bangladesh (27 July 2001)
  • Barbados (12 October 1993)
  • Belarus (30 August 2006)
  • Belgium (13 November 1998)
  • Belize (13 August 1983)
  • Benin (16 October 1997)
  • Bolivia (Plurinational State of) (28 April 1995)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (12 January 1994)
  • Botswana (2 May 1990)
  • Brazil (22 December 1988)
  • Brunei Darussalam (5 November 1996)
  • Bulgaria (15 May 1996)
  • Burkina Faso (25 January 2005)
  • Cabo Verde (10 August 1987)
  • Cameroon (19 November 1985)
  • Canada (7 November 2003)
  • Chad (14 August 2009)
  • Chile (25 August 1997)
  • China (7 June 1996)
  • Comoros (21 June 1994)
  • Congo (9 July 2008)
  • Cook Islands (15 February 1995)
  • Costa Rica (21 September 1992)
  • Côte d’Ivoire (26 March 1984)
  • Croatia (5 April 1995)
  • Cuba (15 August 1984)
  • Cyprus (12 December 1988)
  • Czech Republic (21 June 1996)
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (17 February 1989)
  • Denmark (16 November 2004)
  • Djibouti ( 8 October 1991)
  • Dominica (24 October 1991)
  • Dominican Republic (10 July 2009)
  • Ecuador (24 September 2012)
  • Egypt (26 August 1983)
  • Equatorial Guinea (21 July 1997)
  • Estonia (26 August 2005)
  • European Union (1 April 1998)
  • Fiji (10 December 1982)
  • Finland (21 June 1996)
  • France (11 April 1996)
  • Gabon (11 March 1998)
  • Gambia (22 May 1984)
  • Georgia (21 March 1996 )
  • Germany (14 October 1994)
  • Ghana (7 June 1983)
  • Greece (21 July 1995)
  • Grenada (25 April 1991)
  • Guatemala (11 February 1997)
  • Guinea (6 September 1985)
  • Guinea?Bissau (25 August 1986)
  • Guyana (16 November 1993)
  • Haiti (31 July 1996)
  • Honduras (5 October 1993)
  • Hungary (5 February 2002)
  • Iceland (21 June 1985)
  • India (29 June 1995)
  • Indonesia (3 February 1986)
  • Iraq (30 July 1985)
  • Ireland (21 June 1996)
  • Italy (13 January 1995)
  • Jamaica (21 March 1983)
  • Japan (20 June 1996)
  • Jordan (27 November 1995)
  • Kenya (2 March 1989)
  • Kiribati (24 February 2003)
  • Kuwait (2 May 1986)
  • Lao People’s Democratic Republic (5 June 1998)
  • Latvia (23 December 2004)
  • Lebanon (5 January 1995)
  • Lesotho (31 May 2007)
  • Liberia (25 September 2008)
  • Lithuania (12 November 2003)
  • Luxembourg (5 October 2000)
  • Madagascar (22 August 2001)
  • Malawi (28 September 2010 )
  • Malaysia (14 October 1996)
  • Maldives (7 September 2000)
  • Mali (16 July 1985)
  • Malta (20 May 1993)
  • Marshall Islands (9 August 1991)
  • Mauritania (17 July 1996)
  • Mauritius (4 November 1994)
  • Mexico (18 March 1983)
  • Micronesia (Federated States of) (29 April 1991)
  • Monaco (20 March 1996)
  • Mongolia (13 August 1996)
  • Montenegro (23 October 2006)
  • Morocco (31 May 2007)
  • Mozambique (13 March 1997)
  • Myanmar (21 May 1996)
  • Namibia (18 April 1983)
  • Nauru (23 January 1996)
  • Nepal (2 November 1998)
  • Netherlands (28 June 1996)
  • New Zealand (19 July 1996)
  • Nicaragua (3 May 2000)
  • Niger (7 August 2013)
  • Nigeria (14 August 1986)
  • Niue (11 October 2006)
  • Norway (24 June 1996)
  • Oman (17 August 1989)
  • Pakistan (26 February 1997)
  • Palau (30 September 1996)
  • Panama (1 July 1996)
  • Papua New Guinea (14 January 1997)
  • Paraguay (26 September 1986)
  • Philippines (8 May 1984)
  • Poland (13 November 1998)
  • Portugal (3 November 1997)
  • Qatar (9 December 2002)
  • Republic of Korea (29 January 1996)
  • Republic of Moldova (6 February 2007)
  • Romania (17 December 1996)
  • Russian Federation (12 March 1997)
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis (7 January 1993)
  • Saint Lucia (27 March 1985)
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1 October 1993)
  • Samoa (14 August 1995)
  • Sao Tome and Principe (3 November 1987)
  • Saudi Arabia (24 April 1996)
  • Senegal (25 October 1984)
  • Serbia (12 March 2001)
  • Seychelles (16 September 1991)
  • Sierra Leone (12 December 1994)
  • Singapore (17 November 1994)
  • Slovakia (8 May 1996)
  • Slovenia (16 June 1995)
  • Solomon Islands (23 June 1997)
  • Somalia (24 July 1989)
  • South Africa (23 December 1997)
  • Spain (15 January 1997)
  • Sri Lanka (19 July 1994)
  • State of Palestine (2 January 2015)
  • Sudan (23 January 1985)
  • Suriname (9 July 1998)
  • Swaziland (24 September 2012)
  • Sweden (25 June 1996)
  • Switzerland (1 May 2009)
  • Thailand (15 May 2011 )
  • The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (19 August 1994)
  • Timor-Leste (8 January 2013)
  • Togo (16 April 1985)
  • Tonga (2 August 1995)
  • Trinidad and Tobago (25 April 1986)
  • Tunisia (24 April 1985)
  • Tuvalu (9 December 2002)
  • Uganda (9 November 1990)
  • Ukraine (26 July 1999)
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (25 July 1997)
  • United Republic of Tanzania (30 September 1985)
  • Uruguay (10 December 1992)
  • Vanuatu (10 August 1999)
  • Viet Nam (25 July 1994)
  • Yemen (21 July 1987)
  • Zambia (7 March 1983)
  • Zimbabwe (24 February 1993)

Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI of the Convention of 10 December 1982

The list include 150 countries:

  • Albania (23 June 2003)
  • Algeria (11 June 1996)
  • Angola (7 September 2010 )
  • Antigua and Barbuda (3 May 2016)
  • Argentina (1 December 1995)
  • Armenia (9 December 2002)
  • Australia (5 October 1994)
  • Austria (14 July 1995)
  • Azerbaijan (16 June 2016)
  • Bahamas (28 July 1995 )
  • Bangladesh (27 July 2001)
  • Barbados (28 July 1995)
  • Belarus (30 August 2006)
  • Belgium (13 November 1998)
  • Belize (21 October 1994)
  • Benin (16 October 1997)
  • Bolivia (Plurinational State of) (28 April 1995)
  • Botswana (31 January 2005)
  • Brazil (25 October 2007)
  • Brunei Darussalam (5 November 1996)
  • Bulgaria (15 May 1996)
  • Burkina Faso (25 January 2005)
  • Cabo Verde (23 April 2008)
  • Cameroon (28 August 2002)
  • Canada (7 November 2003)
  • Chad (14 August 2009)
  • Chile (25 August 1997)
  • China (7 June 1996)
  • Congo (9 July 2008)
  • Cook Islands (15 February 1995)
  • Costa Rica (20 September 2001)
  • Côte d’Ivoire (28 July 1995)
  • Croatia (5 April 1995)
  • Cuba (17 October 2002)
  • Cyprus (27 July 1995)
  • Czech Republic (21 June 1996)
  • Denmark (16 November 2004)
  • Dominican Republic (10 July 2009)
  • Ecuador (24 September 2012)
  • Equatorial Guinea (21 July 1997)
  • Estonia (26 August 2005)
  • European Union (1 April 1998)
  • Fiji (28 July 1995)
  • Finland (21 June 1996)
  • France (11 April 1996)
  • Gabon (11 March 1998)
  • Georgia (21 March 1996)
  • Germany (14 October 1994)
  • Ghana (23 September 2016)
  • Greece (21 July 1995)
  • Grenada (28 July 1995)
  • Guatemala (11 February 1997)
  • Guinea (28 July 1995)
  • Guyana (25 September 2008)
  • Haiti (31 July 1996)
  • Honduras (28 July 2003)
  • Hungary (5 February 2002)
  • Iceland (28 July 1995)
  • India (29 June 1995)
  • Indonesia (2 June 2000)
  • Ireland (21 June 1996)
  • Italy (13 January 1995)
  • Jamaica (28 July 1995)
  • Japan (20 June 1996)
  • Jordan (27 November 1995)
  • Kenya (29 July 1994)
  • Kiribati (24 February 2003)
  • Kuwait (2 August 2002)
  • Lao People’s Democratic Republic (5 June 1998)
  • Latvia (23 December 2004)
  • Lebanon (5 January 1995)
  • Lesotho (31 May 2007)
  • Liberia (25 September 2008)
  • Lithuania (12 November 2003)
  • Luxembourg (5 October 2000)
  • Madagascar (22 August 2001)
  • Malawi (28 September 2010 )
  • Malaysia (14 October 1996)
  • Maldives (7 September 2000)
  • Malta (26 June 1996)
  • Mauritania (17 July 1996)
  • Mauritius (4 November 1994)
  • Mexico (10 April 2003)
  • Micronesia (Federated States of) (6 September 1995)
  • Monaco (20 March 1996)
  • Mongolia (13 August 1996)
  • Montenegro (23 October 2006)
  • Morocco (31 May 2007)
  • Mozambique (13 March 1997)
  • Myanmar (21 May 1996)
  • Namibia (28 July 1995)
  • Nauru (23 January 1996)
  • Nepal (2 November 1998)
  • Netherlands (28 June 1996)
  • New Zealand (19 July 1996)
  • Nicaragua (3 May 2000)
  • Niger (7 August 2013)
  • Nigeria (28 July 1995)
  • Niue (11 October 2006)
  • Norway (24 June 1996)
  • Oman (26 February 1997)
  • Pakistan (26 February 1997)
  • Palau (30 September 1996)
  • Panama (1 July 1996)
  • Papua New Guinea (14 January 1997)
  • Paraguay (10 July 1995)
  • Philippines (23 July 1997)
  • Poland (13 November 1998)
  • Portugal (3 November 1997)
  • Qatar (9 December 2002)
  • Republic of Korea (29 January 1996)
  • Republic of Moldova (6 February 2007)
  • Romania (17 December 1996)
  • Russian Federation (12 March 1997)
  • Samoa (14 August 1995)
  • Saudi Arabia (24 April 1996)
  • Senegal (25 July 1995)
  • Serbia (28 July 1995)
  • Seychelles (15 December 1994)
  • Sierra Leone (12 December 1994)
  • Singapore (17 November 1994)
  • Slovakia (8 May 1996)
  • Slovenia (16 June 1995)
  • Solomon Islands (23 June 1997)
  • South Africa (23 December 1997)
  • Spain (15 January 1997)
  • Sri Lanka (28 July 1995)
  • State of Palestine (2 January 2015)
  • Suriname (9 July 1998)
  • Swaziland (24 September 2012)
  • Sweden (25 June 1996)
  • Switzerland (1 May 2009)
  • Thailand (15 May 2011 )
  • The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (19 August 1994)
  • Timor-Leste (8 January 2013)
  • Togo (28 July 1995)
  • Tonga (2 August 1995)
  • Trinidad and Tobago (28 July 1995)
  • Tunisia (24 May 2002)
  • Tuvalu (9 December 2002)
  • Uganda (28 July 1995)
  • Ukraine (26 July 1999)
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (25 July 1997)
  • United Republic of Tanzania (25 June 1998)
  • Uruguay (7August 2007)
  • Vanuatu (10 August 1999)
  • Viet Nam (27 April 2006)
  • Yemen (13 October 2014)
  • Zambia (28 July 1995)
  • Zimbabwe (28 July 1995)

Agreement for the implementation of the provisions of the Convention of 10 December 1982 relating to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks

The list include 83 States:

  • Australia (23 December 1999)
  • Austria (19 December 2003)
  • Bahamas (16 January 1997)
  • Bangladesh (5 November 2012)
  • Barbados (22 September 2000)
  • Belgium (19 December 2003)
  • Belize (14 July 2005)
  • Brazil (8 March 2000)
  • Bulgaria (13 December 2006)
  • Canada (3 August 1999)
  • Chile (11 February 2016)
  • Cook Islands (1 April 1999)
  • Costa Rica (18 June 2001)
  • Croatia (10 September 2013)
  • Cyprus (25 September 2002)
  • Czech Republic (19 March 2007)
  • Denmark (19 December 2003)
  • Estonia (7 August 2006)
  • European Union (19 December 2003)
  • Fiji (12 December 1996)
  • Finland (19 December 2003)
  • France (19 December 2003)
  • Germany (19 December 2003)
  • Greece (19 December 2003)
  • Guinea (16 September 2005)
  • Hungary (16 May 2008)
  • Iceland (14 February 1997)
  • India (19 August 2003)
  • Indonesia (28 September 2009)
  • Iran (Islamic Republic of) (17 April 1998)
  • Ireland (19 December 2003)
  • Italy (19 December 2003)
  • Japan (7 August 2006)
  • Kenya (13 July 2004)
  • Kiribati (15 September 2005)
  • Latvia (5 February 2007)
  • Liberia (16 September 2005)
  • Lithuania (1 March 2007)
  • Luxembourg (19 December 2003)
  • Maldives (30 December 1998)
  • Malta (11 November 2001)
  • Marshall Islands (19 March 2003)
  • Mauritius (25 March 1997)
  • Micronesia (Federated States of) (23 May 1997)
  • Monaco (9 June 1999)
  • Morocco (19 September 2012)
  • Mozambique (10 December 2008)
  • Namibia (8 April 1998)
  • Nauru (10 January 1997)
  • Netherlands (19 December 2003)
  • New Zealand (18 April 2001)
  • Nigeria (2 November 2009)
  • Niue (11 October 2006)
  • Norway (30 December 1996)
  • Oman (14 May 2008)
  • Palau (26 March 2008)
  • Panama (16 December 2008)
  • Papua New Guinea (4 June 1999)
  • Philippines (24 September 2014)
  • Poland (14 March 2006)
  • Portugal (19 December 2003)
  • Republic of Korea (1 February 2008)
  • Romania (16 July 2007)
  • Russian Federation (4 August 1997)
  • Saint Lucia (9 August 1996)
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (29 October 2010)
  • Samoa (25 October 1996)
  • Senegal (30 January 1997)
  • Seychelles (20 March 1998)
  • Slovakia (6 November 2008)
  • Slovenia (15 June 2006)
  • Solomon Islands (13 February 1997)
  • South Africa (14 August 2003)
  • Spain (19 December 2003)
  • Sri Lanka (24 October 1996)
  • Sweden (19 December 2003)
  • Tonga (31 July 1996)
  • Trinidad and Tobago (13 September 2006)
  • Tuvalu (2 February 2009)
  • Ukraine (27 February 2003)
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (10 December 2001); (19 December 2003) For details, refer to UN Treaties.
  • United States of America (21 August 1996)
  • Uruguay (10 September 1999)

Resources

Notes and References

  1. United Nations, The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (A Historical Perspective), available at un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_historical_perspective.htm (accessed 9 June 2010).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. United States Energy Information Administration, Gulf of Mexico Fact Sheet, available at https://www.eia.doe.gov/oog/special/gulf/gulf_fact_sheet.html (accessed 10 June 2010); United States Energy Information Administration, Energy Calculators, available at eia.doe.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=about_energy_conversion_calculator-basics (accessed 10 June 2010); United States Energy Information Administration, Crude Oil Production, available at eia.doe.gov/neic/infosheets/crudeproduction.html (accessed 10 June 2010). Note: Due to differences in density in various types of oil, the actual volume of a ton of oil can be different from barrel to barrel. As such, the numbers provided are best guess estimates based on the information available and should not be viewed as exact.
  5. President Harry S. Truman, President Truman’s Proclamations on U.S. Policy Concerning Natural Resources of Sea Bed and Fisheries on High Seas, available at https://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1945/450928a.html (accessed 10 June 2010).
  6. Ibid.
  7. United Nations, The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (A Historical Perspective), available at un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_historical_perspective.htm (accessed 9 June 2010).
  8. United Nations, Diplomatic Conferences: United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, 1958, available at (untreaty.un.org/cod/diplomaticconferences/lawofthesea-1958/lawofthesea-1958.html (accessed 10 June 2010).
  9. Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, 29 April 1958, 516 U.N.T.S. 205. (available at untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/8_1_1958_territorial_sea.pdf)
  10. Convention on the High Seas, 29 April 1958, 450 U.N.T.S. 11 (available at untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/8_1_1958_high_seas.pdf).
  11. Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas, 29 April 1958, 559 U.N.T.S. 285 (available at untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/8_1_1958_fishing.pdf).
  12. Convention on the Continental Shelf, 29 April 1958, 499 U.N.T.S. 311 (available at untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/8_1_1958_continental_shelf.pdf).
  13. United Nations, Diplomatic Conferences: United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, 1958, available at (untreaty.un.org/cod/diplomaticconferences/lawofthesea-1958/lawofthesea-1958.html (accessed 10 June 2010); International Law Commission, Law of the Sea: Regime of the Territorial Sea, available at untreaty.un.org/ilc/summaries/8_2.htm (accessed 11 June 2010).
  14. United Nations, Diplomatic Conferences: United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, 1960, available at untreaty.un.org/cod/diplomaticconferences/lawofthesea-1960/lawofthesea-1960.html (accessed 10 June 2010).

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