UNCLOS Agencies

UNCLOS (Convention on Law of the Sea) III Agencies

Note: for more details about the UNCLOS (Convention on Law of the Sea) III, read here.

Agencies Created by UNCLOS

By Daniel Hollis

In order to administer UNCLOS, the treaty created four bodies to handle specific issues. The following sections discuss the mission of each body and its founding authority.

Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf

The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf was created to implement Article 76 of the treaty, which is the article which allows for a nation to extend sovereignty over a portion of the continental shelf beyond the limits of the EEZ.[1] The Commission is comprised of 21 members who are specialists in the fields of geology, geophysics, or hydrography and are elected by the Nations Parties to the Convention. Members of the Commission are charged with evaluating data submitted by coastal nation requesting an extension of sovereignty over an extended portion of their naturally occurring continental shelf.[2] The Commission was established and derives its authority from Annex II of the Convention.

International Seabed Authority

The International Seabed Authority is the organization that is responsible for the governance of the Area.[3] Article 156 of the Convention mandates the creation of the Seabed Authority, which is commonly referred to as “the Authority” throughout most of the treaty.[4] All nations that have agreed to be bound by UNCLOS are automatically members of the Authority.[5] The Authority is comprised of three bodies: the Assembly, the Council, and the Secretariat.[6]

The Assembly

The Assembly acts as a legislative organ in which each member nation has one representative.[7] Of the many powers and responsibilities entrusted to the Assembly, one of the most important is the power to decide how revenues derived from deep seabed mining will be distributed. Other powers include the power to set policy regarding activities in the Area and oversight of its management.[8]

The Council

The Council is a body comprised of 36 persons who represent various members of the Authority itself (the nations bound by the treaty). Members of the Council are elected by the Assembly and serve for a term of four years.[9] The Council acts as the executive branch of the Authority and has the power of establishing the specific policies to be pursued by the Authority.[10] Other powers of the Council include establishing subsidiary agencies (as needed) to carry out the functions of the Council, approve or reject work plans related to the Area, oversee the collection of payments made to the Authority, and institute proceedings against a member nation in the Seabed Disputes Chamber (see International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea below).[11]

Within the Council there are two Commissions: the Economic Planning Commission and the Legal and Technical Commission. Each Commission is comprised of members elected by the Council from a list of candidates nominated by the nations that are bound by UNCLOS. Members of either Commission serve for a term of five years and must have no personal financial connections related to exploration or exploitation of resources within the Area.[12]

Members of the Economic Planning Commission are required to have qualifications in the areas of mining, management of mineral resources, international trade, or international economics and it is required that at least two members of the Commission are from developing nations whose mineral exports be the same as those being mined from the seabed.[13] The primary function of the Economic Planning Commission is to expound upon the relationship between the minerals being mined, the effect mining has on global prices for the mineral in question, and the effect changes in price may have on developing nations.[14]

Members of the Legal and Technical Commission are required to have qualifications in the areas of exploration, exploitation, and processing of mineral resources, oceanology, protection of the marine environment, or either economic or legal matters relating to the ocean mining industry.[15] It is the responsibility of the Commission to review written plans for work activities to be conducted in the Area, prepare assessments of the environmental implications of activities in the Area, make recommendations to the Council regarding environmental protection of the Area, and to calculate the production ceiling and issue production authorization on behalf of the Authority.[16]

The Secretariat

The Secretariat of the Authority is comprised of the Secretary-General and his or her staff. The Secretary General is elected for a term of four years. Nominations for Secretary-General are made by the Council and voted on by the Assembly. The Secretary-General serves as the chief administrative officer of the Authority and is required to make an annual report to the Assembly on the work of the Authority.[17]

The Enterprise

Article 170 calls for the formation of an agency called “the Enterprise.” The purpose of the Enterprise is to coordinate the exploration and exploitation of resources in the area. Annex IV of the treaty details the composition and governance of the Enterprise, however, since deep seabed mining has yet to start, the Enterprise has never been called into action.

International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea

Annex VI of UNCLOS establishes the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The Tribunal is comprised of 21 members, no two of which may be from the same member nation.[18] Members of the Tribunal serve for a period of nine years, after which they are eligible for reelection to the Tribunal.[19] The Tribunal has formed a number of Chambers including the Chamber of Summary Procedure, the Chamber for Fisheries Disputed, the Chamber for Marine Environment Disputes, and the Chamber for Maritime Delimitation Disputes.[20] The Tribunal is also the home of the Seabed Disputes Chamber, which is responsible for adjudicating disputes pursuant to Part XI, Section 5 of UNCLOS, which governs settlements of disputes that arise from deep seabed activities.[21]


Notes and References

  1. UNCLOS Annex II, art 1.
  2. UNCLOS Annex II, art ..
  3. UNCLOS art 157.
  4. UNCLOS art 157(1), art 1
  5. UNCLOS art 157(2).
  6. UNCLOS art 157.
  7. UNCLOS art 159(1).
  8. UNCLOS art 160.
  9. UNCLOS art 161.
  10. UNCLOS art 162(1).
  11. UNCLOS art 162.
  12. UNCLOS art 163.
  13. UNCLOS art 164(1).
  14. UNCLOS art 164(2).
  15. UNCLOS art 165(1).
  16. UNCLOS art 165(2).
  17. UNCLOS art 166.
  18. UNCLOS Annex VI, art 2-3.
  19. UNCLOS Annex VI, art 5.
  20. International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, General Information – Overview: International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, available at https://www.itlos.org/start2_en.html (accessed 18 June 2010).
  21. UNCLOS Annex VI, art 14.