On 15 December, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) ordered Ghana to release the Argentine military training vessel ARA Fragata Libertad (see oral proceedings). NML Capital, an investment company focused on distressed debt based in the Cayman Islands and owned by Elliot Associates, a US hedge fund, had earlier obtained an order from the Ghana Superior Court of Judicature (Commercial Division) to attach the Libertad moored in the port of Trema to satisfy a judgment by a US District Court for payment on defaulted Argentine bonds. The Libertad was on an official goodwill mission in Ghana’s internal waters at the time of the attachment. Read the rest of this entry…
On 14 November 2012 Argentina filed a Request for provisional measures before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) based in Hamburg, Germany in accordance with Article 290(5) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), requesting Ghana to release the frigate ARA Libertad, a sailing training vessel of the Argentine Navy. For the background of the case relating to Argentina’s default on its external debt in 2001 see my previous EJIL:Talk! post. This brief post will touch upon certain jurisdictional and substantive issues of the case, with particular emphasis on the jurisdictional framework established by the UNCLOS, the question of jurisdiction, and the scope of Argentina’s waiver with regard to enforcement immunity of warships.
Some Jurisdictional Aspects of the Case: The Forum
Although the case relates to the seizure of a vessel, it should be stressed that the case in question is a provisional measures case and not a prompt release case (Article 292 UNCLOS) which constitute the majority of the cases decided by the ITLOS so far. Where there is no agreement regarding which court or tribunal should decide on the prescription of provisional measures, the ITLOS will decide on the matter, provided that proceedings are already initiated before an arbitral tribunal (Article 290 UNCLOS). Read the rest of this entry…
Another chapter has begun in the saga of NML Capital Ltd’s attempts to collect on its holdings of Argentinean bonds (see here for earlier reporting on EJIL:Talk!) with the initiation of inter-State proceedings by Argentina against Ghana under the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea.
It will be recalled that on 2 October 2012, whilst on an official visit, the Argentinean naval training vessel the ARA Libertad was arrested in the Ghanaian port of Tema. Its arrest was ordered by Justice Richard Adjei Frimpong, sitting in the Commercial Division of the Accra High Court, on an application by NML to enforce a judgment against Argentina obtained in the US courts. The judge considered that the waiver of immunity contained in Argentina’s bond documents (which are at the heart of the dispute with NML) operated to lift the vessel’s immunity from execution. That waiver provides that:
To the extent the Republic [of Argentina] or any of its revenues, assets or properties shall be entitled … to any immunity from suit, … from attachment prior to judgment, … from execution of a judgment or from any other legal or judicial process or remedy, … the Republic has irrevocably agreed not to claim and has irrevocably waived such immunity to the fullest extent permitted by the laws of such jurisdiction (and consents generally for the purposes of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to the giving of any relief or the issue of any process in connection with any Related Proceeding or Related Judgment).
Argentina has strongly resisted this assertion of jurisdiction, claiming that it violates the immunity enjoyed by public vessels, which cannot be impliedly waived. It appears that the vessel remains under the control of a skeleton crew, who have prevented any efforts by the Ghanaian authorities to move the vessel, whilst being preventing themselves from leaving port.
Both States being parties to UNCLOS, on 29 October 2012 Argentina instituted arbitration proceedings against Ghana under Annex VII UNCLOS (Ghana not having made a declaration under Article 287 UNCLOS: see Article 287(3)). On 14 November 2012 Argentina applied to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the prescription of provisional measures prior to the constitution of the Annex VII arbitration tribunal (ITLOS press release here). Argentina may well have the law on its side as regards State immunity for warships. It may be, however, that ITLOS and an UNCLOS Annex VII arbitral tribunal are not the right fora for the settlement of its dispute with Ghana.
From the North Sea to the Bay of Bengal: Maritime Delimitation at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
Last week, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea delivered its judgment in the Dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh/Myanmar). Although Bangladesh and Myanmar started negotiations for the delimitation of their maritime boundaries since 1974, when Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan, the boundary had still to be settled by 2009, when Bangladesh initiated the proceedings. The dispute was fuelled in 2008 when, following the discovery by Indian and Myanmar of gas deposits, Myanmar authorised exploration in the contested area. Bangladesh replied by sending its warships in the disputed area. Luckily, conflict was avoided following intense negotiations between the parties and the dispute has now been solved peacefully by having recourse to the dispute settlement provisions (Part XV) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The decision established the boundary of the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf [including the area of continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles (nm) from the baselines], between the two States in the Bay of Bengal. It also addresses navigation in the territorial waters of Bangladesh by vessels of Myanmar and discusses the rights and duties of the parties in the area where the continental shelf of Bangladesh beyond 200 nm overlaps with the water column within 200 nm from the coast of Myanmar.
This case is the first to be decided between the two initiated by Bangladesh for the delimitation of its maritime boundaries with its neighbouring States, Myanmar and India. As Dapo has already reported, delimitation of the Bangladeshi-Indian boundary has been submitted to arbitration. It is to be expected that, following the decision on the boundary, Bangladesh and Myanmar will now start exploitation activities in the bay of Bengal.
For those familiar with maritime delimitation, a quick glance at the map of the region will bring immediately in mind the geography of the North Sea continental shelf cases, decided by the ICJ in 1969. There are indeed at least three similarities between the two cases. Read the rest of this entry…
And in other news . . . the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) also had a first of its own this past Wednesday. ITLOS delivered judgment in its first maritime delimitation case - Dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh/Myanmar) (see press release here and judgment here). The case is part of a pair of maritime delimitation cases involving Bangladesh and its neighbours. The other case is one between Bangladesh and India, which has been submitted to arbitration under Annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
We will have a substantive comment on the decision in the Bangladesh/Myanmar cases soon but for now it may be noted that ITLOS set out a single maritime boundary delimiting the territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves of the two States. It appears that both parties got something from the decision. The Tribunal rejected Bangladesh’s argument that both parties had already agreed on a delimitation of the territorial sea in 1974. However, ITLOS acceded to Bangladesh’s request (which was opposed by Myanmar) that the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles limit be delimited.
It is not surprising that the decision by ITLOS has received much less attention than that of the International Criminal Court in the Lubanga case (see post here). However, I am surprised that ITLOS announced its decision on the same day as the ICC. ITLOS seems to take special care in ensuring that its work is completely overshadowed by the work of other international courts. Announcing a decision on the same day as the ICC’s first judgment is just part of a trend. The hearings in the Bangladesh/Myanmar case were held exactly at the same time as the ICJ hearings in the Germany v. Italy (Immunity) case. So of course, those hearings got very little attention. In September 2010, when ITLOS held hearings in its advisory proceedings on The Responsibilities and obligations of States sponsoring persons and entities with respect to activities in the International Seabed Area, they were fixed for the same week as the ICJ’s hearings in the Georgia v. Russia (Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Case). Considering that these two ITLOS hearings are the only two substantive hearings the tribunal has had in the last couple of years I find it strange that they are fxed for the same time as the ICJ’s hearings, especially as the ICJ itself only has a few hearings a year. It’s not very hard to avoid those week is it! Perhaps ITLOS is not deliberating trying to hide its light under a bowl, but it couldn’t do a better job of hiding away if it was deliberately trying.
Last summer, I wrote a piece on this blog noting that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which had been underutilised for some years, was finally getting some substative cases to decide. Although ITLOS had decided a number of cases dealing with provisional release of vessels, and had handled requests for provisional measures in cases where the merits had been submitted to an arbitral tribunal, ITLOS had only decided one case on the merits before 2010. But in a 6 month period before the summer of 2010, 2 cases were submitted to ITLOS: one a maritime delimitation case between Bangladesh and Myanmar and the other a request for an advisory opinion. Not a lot of activity but nonethess signifcant. Nearly one year on, the Court has had two further cases submitted to it!! Last month, Panama and Guinea Bissau agreed to submit a dispute to ITLOS relating to the detention of a vessel (see press release). In November last year, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines initiated a case against Spain at ITLOS also relating to detention of a vessel. Neither of these cases are provisional release cases (see here). That means four new cases in just over 18 months!
It is worth taking a moment to reflect on this new found confidence in ITLOS. In two of the new cases (the Bangladesh/Myanmar and the Panama/Guinea Bissau cases), the parties have agreed to refer to ITLOS, disputes which ordinarily were within the jurisdiction of arbitral tribunals under the dispute settlement system of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In other words, rather than going to an arbitral tribunal with compulsory jurisdiction over the dispute, the parties have instead agreed to go to ITLOS. This raises questions as to whyStates might choose a standing court over an arbitral tribunal and why the new found confidence in ITLOS (since the ICJ would also have been an option for these States). One might argue that there are a number of advantages of arbitration over judicial proceedings. For example, the parties have more influence over the composition of the tribunal, the tribunal will be much smaller - usually 5 arbitrators - than ITLOS which has 21 judges. Both these points perhaps make ITLOS’ decisions less predictable for parties. But are there advantages to resorting to ITLOS (or other standing judicial bodies) over arbitration? Clearly these four State think so. I can think of two possible advantages. Decisions of judicial bodies may be regarded as carrying greater (political rather than legal) authority than that of arbitral tribunals. While this may be true of the ICJ, I wonder about ITLOS. Also, developing countries may get financial assistance for using ITLOS. Are there other advantages? Also, are there advantages of using ITLOS over the ICJ? I would be interested in readers’ comments on these issues.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has announced (see press release here) that its President has appointed three arbitrators to serve as members of the arbitral tribunal which will hear the dispute between Mauritius and the United Kingdom concerning the ‘Marine Protected Area’ around the Chagos Islands. The dispute concerns the creation by the UK of a Maritime Protected Area (MPA) in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around the Chagos Islands Archipelogo. Mauritius, which claims sovereignty over the Chagos Islands, submitted the dispute to an Annex VII arbitral Tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It claims that the UK is not competent to create the MPA and that only Mauritius is entitled to create an EEZ around the Chagos Islands. Readers can find analysis of the case in a piece written on this blog last month by my colleague Irini Papanicolopulu. According to the ITLOS Press Release:
The arbitrators are Ivan Shearer (Australia), James Kateka (Tanzania), and Albert Hoffmann (South Africa). The President appointed Ivan Shearer as the president of the arbitral tribunal. These appointments were made in consultation with the two parties to the dispute.
James Kateka and Albert Hoffan are both judges of ITLOS and Ivan Shearer, who is Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Sydney has been ad hoc judge at ITLOS in two cases. Read the rest of this entry…
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which is based in Hamburg, is holding hearings this week in advisory proceedings before that Tribunal. The case concerns Responsibilities and obligations of States sponsoring persons and entities with respect to activities in the International Seabed Area and the request for the advisory opinion was submitted to the Seabed Disputes Chamber of ITLOS by the International Seabed Authority. The request represents the first advisory proceedings before ITLOS and the first case before the Seabed Disputes Chamber. The oral proceedings are the first before ITLOS in 3 years (the last being in 2007 and the last one before that was in 2004)!
In 1991, Keith Highet who argued many cases before the International Court of Justice wrote a brief comment in the American Journal of International Law (Vol. 85, No. 4 (Oct., 1991), pp. 646-654) noting how the ICJ had become busier than ever in the years immediately following the Court’s judgment in Nicaragua case. The title of this piece is adapted from his piece (The Peace Palace Heats Up: The World Court in Business Again?). The situation that in ITLOS today is no where near the same as that in the ICJ in the early 1990s but I simply wish to note that having been in the doldrums for much of its existence since it was set up in 1996. The Tribunal was created by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as one (of a number of means) of settling disputes under the UNCLOS. Except in one respect, it has not received much attention from potential users and very few cases have been referred to it. However, at this point in time there are 2 cases on the docket of ITLOS!! Apart from the advisory proceedings there is also a contentious case on its docket. This is the Dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal submitted to the tribunal in December 2009. Two cases is not much cause for celebration but these are two cases received less than 6 months apart. Is the Tribunal now in business?
Apart from requests for provisional measures and request for prompt release of vessels (the latter is the one respect in which ITLOS has received some attention from users), ITLOS has only previously had one case submitted to it on the merits. This was the Saiga Case (St Vincent and the Grenadines v. Guinea) submitted to ITLOS in 1998. I had just started out as a full time academic at the University of Nottingham and I acted as an adviser and assistant to Richard Plender QC who was counsel to St Vincent. I was involved in drafting some of the submissions to the tribunal and never imagined that ITLOS would not hold oral hearings on the merits of a dispute for another decade! In that time, there has been no shortage of law of the sea disputes.
The dispute settlement provisions of UNCLOS (Part XV) provides for compulsory adjudication but gives parties a choice of procedures. The default choice (i.e the option to be pursued where no specific choice is made or where parties have chosen different procedures) is international abitration but parties may also use the International Court of Justice or ITLOS. Although more States have chosen ITLOS than any other option, States have refrained from referring law of the sea disputes to ITLOS. I think that there have been 6 arbitrations initiated under UNCLOS, including an arbitration between Bangladesh and India initiated at the same time as the ITLOS proceedings before Bangladesh and Myanmar. There have also law of the sea cases before the ICJ in the period since ITLOS was created. Failure to refer cases to ITLOS suggests that States perceive disadvantages with that Tribunal when compared with the alternatives. Perhaps its biggest disadvantage is that it is untried and untested. States have some idea what they will get with the ICJ. With arbitration states pick the arbitrators and have some control over the process and this may give some comfort to States. Whether ITLOS continues to generate business might well depend on how it is perceived as performing in the 2 cases currently on its docket.