Radio 4: Unreliable Evidence - Who Is Responsible For Enforcing The Law Of The Sea?

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Radio 4: Unreliable Evidence - Who Is Responsible For Enforcing The Law Of The Sea?

Who exactly is responsible for enforcing the Law Of The Sea or, as Clive Anderson suggests, are the High Seas a legal Wild West? This was the topic of last week’s Unreliable Evidence on Radio 4. This is very, very much a niche subject, to be honest, but I thought I would offer a link to the programme, for anyone who might be interested.

The Royal Navy was represented on the panel by Commodore Neil Brown, once that rare breed, a Royal Navy Barrister, later Chief Naval Judge and Director of the Royal Navy’s Legal Service.

I took fleeting notes as I listened to the programme - just key words and notes, to suggest the topics which were discussed.


UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982
UN Fish Stocks Agreement
International Maritime Organisation
North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission

Law on Piracy - actually one of the oldest parts of the Law Of The Sea
Horn of Africa - The Chandler Case - enforcement is the problem, not the law. The difficulty of policing and reacting to piracy incidents in the Horn Of Africa region, given that it is such a vast area

The jurisdiction of the Flag State

Flag of Convenience

Port State Measures/ Control

Territorial Waters v High Seas? Where are the boundaries? Limits of national jurisdiction:

Internal Waters /12 miles of territorial sea (permitting right of innocent passage) ( extended to 24 miles for anti-smuggling and public health purposes)/EEZ - Exclusive Economic Zones - up to 200 miles

Iceland Cod Wars - 50 mile limit

(One of many disputes pre the Convention)

Changes in law happened as decolonisation progressed and various states gained their own sea territory; however, many weren’t able to develop and sustain the ability to police those maritime territories and enforce any powers conferred

The Continental Shelf - how does territorial jurisdiction differ in this instance?

Possible claims where a claim to the Shelf can go beyond the EEZ. A national claim to the Shelf can exist, while the waters above it remain the High Seas

The Arctic - Norwegian/Russian claims based on Continental Shelf criteria

Piracy - what can be done? Commodore Brown: “The critical thing is to take a multinational approach”

Could a contributory problem be the absence of an effective government in Somalia?

The ultimate problem with piracy is finding where to prosecute and imprison the pirates. Where? Kenya (where more trials are held)? Should there be an International Court of Piracy?

HMS Cumberland intervention.

UN Office on Drugs and Crime

Vienna Convention on the Suppression of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs

Seabed Exploration - conflicting claims

Exploitation of Minerals

International Seabed Authority

Continental Shelf Claims to become increasingly volatile

Crimes committed at sea

Who has the jurisdiction?

Flag of State rule applies.
I noted Commodore Brown’s comment in the rounding-up at the end: speaking of the capacity of various states to meet their maritime obligations, he said “A bigger Navy is never a bad thing”.

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