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Home Archive for category "Law of the Sea"

Deep Seabed Mining in the Area: is international investment law relevant?

Published on July 10, 2019        Author: 
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The last decade has seen a renewed interest in the commercial exploitation of deep seabed minerals located beyond national jurisdiction. However, the respective responsibilities of deep sea miners and of their sponsoring states in this process have not been clarified fully. This short piece argues that international investment law is part of the legal framework applicable to the relationship between the deep sea miner and the state sponsoring it. More specifically, it attempts to demonstrate that deep sea mining operations can constitute a foreign-owned investment within the territory of a host state. Thus, when accepting to sponsor deep sea mining activities, states need to be mindful of the additional disciplines imposed by international investment law. 

The seabed beyond national jurisdiction (named as the “Area” by UNCLOS) is known to contain valuable mineral resources including copper, nickel, zinc and rare earth metals which have become particularly valuable because of recent technological innovations. The International Seabed Authority has awarded twenty-nine exploration contracts to a variety of state and private corporate bodies for vast zones in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Foreign capital has become increasingly involved in this economic activity. Thus, Nauru Ocean Resources, a Nauruan entity which was granted an exploration contract in 2011, is a subsidiary of the Australian corporation Deepgreen Mineral Corp. UK Seabed Mineral Resources is a subsidiary of the well-known Lockheed Martin. However these activities are controversial and there exist glaring gaps in the scientific knowledge of the ecosystems where deep sea mining is supposed to take place. Read the rest of this entry…

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Sovereignty has “Rock-all” to do with it… or has it? What’s at stake in the recent diplomatic spat between Scotland and Ireland?

Published on July 8, 2019        Author: 
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Rockall, the tiny, remote, rocky outcrop in the northeast Atlantic – a ghostly peak of an extinct volcano – has periodically appeared in the news at the centre of a longstanding dispute between the UK and Ireland (as well as, more peripherally, Denmark (Faroe Islands) and Iceland too). This dispute has rarely flared up publicly over recent years, as it has largely been subsumed as part of ongoing, unresolved negotiations surrounding extended continental shelf claims of the four states concerned. However, earlier this month, the Scottish government threatened enforcement action against Irish vessels which it claimed were illegally fishing within Scottish territorial waters surrounding Rockall. Ireland immediately responded to this threat by denying Scotland’s right to take any such action. It seemingly based its position on (i) a rejection of UK sovereignty over the islet and, (ii) the argument that such sovereignty (even if it existed) over uninhabited ‘rocks’ like Rockall was irrelevant for the UK’s claimed maritime entitlement. Although any enforcement action has yet to take place, the underlying diplomatic feud appears not to be going away any time soon. Indeed, following a meeting on Friday 28 June between the Irish Prime Minister (the Taoiseach) and Scottish First Minister, there has been an agreement to intensify discussions in light of the diplomatic impasse.

The Scottish position is perhaps explicable in a pre-Brexit (and pro-independence) political climate, where sovereign rights over natural resources will play a critical part – a theme I briefly return to at the end of this post. However, Ireland’s counterargument appears to be built on a misapprehension of the applicable law, both over territory and associated maritime rights. The real issue would appear to lie in the permissibility of fishing – including potentially acquired customary rights to do so – in the context of EU Common Fisheries Policy rules. In this short post I want to clarify the legal position on sovereignty and associated maritime rights, before turning to the arguably more complicated issue of fishing rights specifically. Before doing so, for those not already familiar, a brief introduction to Rockall is necessary. Read the rest of this entry…

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Attribution of Naval Mine Strikes in International Law

Published on June 24, 2019        Author:  and
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On Thursday, June 13, two ships were damaged within forty-five minutes by (current evidence suggests) limpet mines, while transiting the Gulf of Oman at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. The Japanese product tanker, Kokuka Courageous sustained damage from either a limpet mine or a projectile, just as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran to try to reduce regional tensions. The Front Altair, also a tanker, suffered far more severe damage to its starboard hull, including a hole at the waterline, which – it has been suggested – was the result of a torpedo strike. This is very difficult to confirm – torpedoes tend to cause much more significant damage, and the damage sustained by Front Altair might also be consistent with a moored or floating mine strike, or the detonation of an attached limpet mine. Both ships caught fire and their crews abandoned ship. Four ships were also damaged by limpet mines off the coast of Fujairah on May 12, 2019. A UAE inquiry pinned responsibility on an ‘unidentified state actor.’

World oil prices increased as daily freight rates for oil supertankers climbed as much as fifty percent to reflect the heightened risk. Insurance rates for a seven-day transit have increased fifteen percent. Some seventy of the world’s supertankers are in the region – ten percent of global capacity – but many remain idle due to the threat. The United States blamed Iran for the attacks, and indeed there is evidence that points to Iranian involvement. The UK also attributes responsibility to Iran. Iran has denied responsibility, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded on twitter that the United States or its allies were likely behind the assaults and that the charge was ‘[without] a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence.’

The United States has pledged to keep the Strait of Hormuz (SOH) open to traffic. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attributed the attacks to Iran based upon ‘intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.’ On June 17 he doubled down, promising to present in the coming days ‘lots of data, lots of evidence’ linking the attacks to Iran. President Trump stated flatly, ‘Iran did do it.’ U.S. Central Command released a video which appears to show an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp Navy (IRGCN) patrol boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the Kokuka Courageous. Trump added, ‘I guess one of the mines didn’t explode and it’s probably got essentially Iran written all over it… It was them that did it.’

In this piece, we explore the available evidence for attribution in light of the international law on point. May the attacks be attributed to Iran, and if not, what additional evidence would have to be produced? And once (if) attribution of the attacks is made out, what measures may affected states then take in response? Since there is no evidence that there exists an international armed conflict under Common Article 2 of the Geneva Conventions, we do not address international humanitarian law, although in the last few days the shoot down of a US UAV and reports of a bombing mission switch off are starting to complicate this assessment.

Read the rest of this entry…

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The Legal Status and Characterisation of Maritime Militia Vessels

Published on June 18, 2019        Author: 
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A recent report has described how Royal Australian Navy helicopter pilots were targeted with lasers during a night flight in the South China Sea. The lasers were allegedly directed from Chinese fishing vessels – the primary cadre from which the so-called Chinese ‘maritime militia’ is drawn. Further, the incident occurred – according to another report – shortly after a US admiral warned that the paramilitary force could be treated as ‘combatants’. 

What is the Chinese maritime militia? As described below it is a hybrid body (or bodies), but in essence it is a civilian reserve force (often of fisherman) capable of being called upon to conduct military or governmental activities. A number of recent official reports (eg, US, and Japan), have specifically commented upon the rise in China’s employment of this force multiplier in the South and East China Sea regions. At a certain level such a force may be benign, called upon to assist in search and rescue efforts. The concern, however, is that militia vessels are also being used to further Chinese strategic claims in disputed waters by – for example – harassing the fishermen of other states – including by sinking their vessels, as is reported to have occurred with a Philippines fishing vessel just a few days ago. In another episode, Chinese fishing vessels formed a cordon around Chinese oil exploration vessels operating off Vietnam.

The concept of a ‘maritime militia’ is relatively recent, but not without historical parallel. There has long been (and remains) well settled law around the practices of privateering, use of merchant vessels as auxiliaries to naval forces, and conversion of merchant vessels into warships. In this post, however, I will briefly outline two status and characterisation challenges ahead – or rather, already with us – presented by the increased use of maritime militia by China in the current geo-political and legal context: The status and characterisation of militia vessels under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the customary law of the sea; and their status under the Law of Naval Warfare (LoNW). Read the rest of this entry…

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Delineating the Exclusivity of Flag State Jurisdiction on the High Seas: ITLOS issues its ruling in the M/V “Norstar” Case

Published on June 4, 2019        Author: 
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On 10 April 2019, the International Tribunal of the Sea (ITLOS) gave its judgment in the long-awaited – though somewhat quietly received – M/V “Norstar” (Panama v Italy) case. The Tribunal ruled (by 15 votes to 7) that by arresting and detaining the Panamanian-flagged vessel, the M/V “Norstar”, Italy had violated Article 87(1) of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) by undermining the vessel’s freedom of navigation. This is the first time that Article 87 has been in direct contention before an international tribunal, and in ruling that Italy contravened the principle the judgment arguably buttresses a quite expansive reading of the exclusive flag state jurisdiction principle under Article 92 UNCLOS.

Whilst the case had previously thrown up interesting jurisdictional and procedural questions at the preliminary objections stage – discussed elsewhere by Mirko Forti here – in this post I will confine my discussion primarily to the ruling on freedom of navigation, insofar as the Tribunal found that Italy’s attempt to exert prescriptive jurisdiction over what were otherwise lawful activities on the high seas violated Article 87(1). In doing so, I will highlight how the Tribunal’s understanding of the exclusive flag state jurisdiction principle arguably runs counter to a notable trend in the academic literature, which was reflected in a somewhat forceful seven-judge dissenting opinion, to treat the principle in a much more circumscribed way. I will also comment on the way in which Italy’s argument in the case seems to put it somewhat at odds with its position in the ongoing Enrica Lexie arbitration – discussed previously by Douglas Guilfoyle here, and Hari Sankar here.

I will first set out the background to and facts of the case before turning to discuss the contentious position on high seas jurisdiction. I also offer a few final thoughts on the contrasting, arguably conflicted positions adopted by Italy in this case versus its position in Enrica Lexie. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Distinction between Military and Law Enforcement Activities: Comments on Case Concerning the Detention of Three Ukrainian Naval Vessels (Ukraine V. Russian Federation), Provisional Measures Order

Published on May 31, 2019        Author: 
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International Tribunal for Law of the Sea (ITLOS) issued a provisional measures order to Russian Federation to release three Ukrainian naval vessels and their servicemen on 25 May 2019. In deciding that the Annex VII arbitral tribunal would have prima facie jurisdiction as required under Article 290(5) of United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Tribunal held that the case was not “disputes concerning military activities” as provided under Article 298(1)(b) (see Kraska).

This is an important decision considering that there is no settled definition of “military activities” which allows state parties to be exempted from the compulsory dispute settlement procedure under UNCLOS. This is the first time that ITLOS held its interpretation on the former half of Article 298(1)(b) (while the latter half was dealt in the provisional measures order in Arctic Sunrise, para.45), and South China Sea arbitration case of 2016 before Annex VII Arbitral Tribunal remains the only precedent where a third-party dispute settlement institution held its interpretation of the same text.

There seems to be a common understanding that in this order, the Tribunal interpreted the scope of the “military activities” under Article 298(1)(b) quite narrowly, if not diminished, and thereby lowered its jurisdictional bar. While assessments of this decision have already been posted (see Kraska, Schatz), this post adds some comments on the legal framework that the Tribunal relied upon.

Preliminary Remarks

One thing that should be kept in mind is that, since it is a provisional measures order, it suffices if the provisions invoked by the applicant prima facie appear to afford a basis on which the jurisdiction of the Annex VII arbitral tribunal could be founded, and need not definitively satisfy itself that the tribunal has jurisdiction over the dispute (Order, para. 36; see also ARA Libertad, para. 60). Judge Lijnzaad’s commented that the questions of the applicable law and of whether the issues raised are solely to be understood as being related to the interpretation and application of UNCLOS were left to Annex VII arbitral tribunal at a later stage, as they are “matters that go well beyond the prima facie analysis of a request for provisional measures (Declaration, Lijnzaad, para.8).” Read the rest of this entry…

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Did ITLOS Just Kill the Military Activities Exemption in Article 298?

Published on May 27, 2019        Author: 
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In a May 25, 2019 interlocutory decision, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) prescribed provisional measures in the case brought by Ukraine against Russia, ordering Russia to release three Ukrainian naval vessels and 24 Ukrainian service members seized on November 25, 2018 in an incident in the Kerch Strait. During the incident last fall, Russian Coast Guard forces, operating in concert with a Russian naval corvette and a military aircraft, fired on two Ukrainian warships and a naval auxiliary as they attempted to transit the strait against the orders of Russian authorities. The ships and their crews were captured and remain in detention in Russia, charged with violating Russian criminal law.

On April 29, Ukraine filed a case with ITLOS requesting provisional measures to order their immediate release. Such measures are authorized under article 290 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in urgent situations to prevent a real and imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights of a party, in this case Ukraine. Article 290(5) permits such measures before the merits of the case so long as the Tribunal has prima facie jurisdiction in the case. The key question was whether the Russia’s operation constituted a “military activity,” and was therefore exempt from jurisdiction in accordance with a previous Russian declaration under article 298 of UNCLOS. The Tribunal determined that Russia’s operations were not a military activity, but the decision is likely to generate unintended consequences.

The ITLOS order has effectively diminished the military activities exemption which will give pause to the 27 nations that have made such declarations, including China, France, Norway, Denmark, and the United Kingdom – and in the future, most likely the United States, which intends to make such a declaration once it accedes to the Convention. (The states are identified in paragraph 11 of Judge Gao’s separate opinion). In a decision that suggests outcome-based legal reasoning to constrain Russia, ITLOS questions the viability of the military activities exemption based on any rationale.

As part of its analysis for jurisdiction, the Tribunal avoided a determination on whether there was an armed conflict between the two states, as would appear from the application of the Geneva Conventions in article 2 common, and as I suggested in an earlier piece. Instead, the ITLOS order accepts without analysis that Ukraine and Russia are interacting during a time of peace, a dubious assumption. In doing so, the Tribunal vindicates two important rights that will be welcomed by maritime powers: sovereign immunity of warships and other government vessels and the peacetime right of freedom of navigation by Ukrainian military vessels. But in reaching this conclusion, the Tribunal diminished the military activities exemption. In a departure from the broader understanding of military activities evident in the 2016 Philippines v. China arbitration, the Tribunal found that the confrontation over innocent passage was a navigational issue, rather than one concerning a military activity, because innocent passage is a right enjoyed by all ships. The Tribunal also determined that Russia’s temporary suspension of innocent passage declared conveniently to halt the transit of Ukrainian warships was a law enforcement activity rather than a military activity. These factors led the Tribunal to conclude that Russia’s actions were “in the context of a law enforcement operation rather than a military operation.”

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Canute’s Kingdoms: Can small island states legislate against their own disappearance?

Published on February 20, 2019        Author: 
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It was recently drawn to my attention that Tuvalu and Kiribati have in recent years passed legislation, following a relatively common scheme, that removes reference to the low tide line as the baseline for measuring maritime zones and replaces it with a system of fixed geographic coordinates. (The Marshall Islands has taken a somewhat similar approach.) On its face, this may constitute a claim that their maritime baselines are permanently fixed. That is, they will not retreat or be redrawn with rising sea levels.

This might seem a small matter in the range of legal issues implicated by climate change – it is not.

As every public international lawyer probably recalls, at least after the South China Sea arbitration, an island (within the meaning of article 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) generates a full suite of maritime zones but must be more than a mere rock incapable of sustaining human habitation or a maritime feature which is only above water at low tide. Imagine your national territory is composed of a series of islands, some of them quite small but generating extensive maritime zones. Long before you risk becoming completely “de-territorialised” by rising sea levels you might lose much of your national livelihood if islands previously generating exclusive economic zones become mere low tide elevations.

So the question becomes, can a state freeze the baselines from which its maritime zones are projected? Read the rest of this entry…

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The China-Japan and Venezuela-Guyana Maritime Disputes: how the law on undelimited maritime areas addresses unilateral hydrocarbon activities

Published on January 25, 2019        Author: 
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In December 2018, two incidents brought to the fore the importance of the rules addressing activities in undelimited maritime areas.  The first incident occurred between China and Japan in the East China Sea, and the second took place between Venezuela and Guyana in the Atlantic Ocean. Whereas the establishment of maritime boundaries is the optimum choice when it comes to the creation of a stable and secure environment for the conduct of maritime activities, the UN Law of the Sea Convention 1982 (‘LOSC’ or ‘the Convention’) provides for the regulation of operations even in the absence of maritime delimitation. With a view to avoiding tension, Articles 74(3) and 83(3) LOSC impose two obligations upon states having overlapping entitlements/claims in a given undelimited maritime area. This post scrutinises the behaviour of the parties involved in the aforementioned disputes through the lens of the LOSC.

The factual background

On the 3rd of December 2018, Japan protested China’s deployment of a jack-up rig and the drilling of boreholes near the provisional median line between the two states in the East China Sea. In response, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that China was carrying out hydrocarbon activities in waters falling within its jurisdiction and that it does not recognise the provisional median line with Japan.

It is worth mentioning that China has been engaged in hydrocarbon activities in the area since 2003 (a deal on the establishment of a joint development zone reached in 2008 has not been implemented). Furthermore, it is recalled that in 2014 China performed unilateral oil and gas ventures in an undelimited maritime area within 200M of the coasts of Vietnam, triggering the latter’s vehement reaction. China had attempted to justify its activities back then by invoking its claims according to the ‘9-dash line’, a claim which was put in doubt by the Award of the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea (Philippines v China) case (2016). Read the rest of this entry…

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The Kerch Strait Incident: Law of the Sea or Law of Naval Warfare?

Published on December 3, 2018        Author: 
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On Sunday 25 November 2018 Russian coast guard patrol boats, including the Don and the 630-ton Izumrud, first intercepted and later fired on three Ukrainian naval ships near the entrance to the Kerch Strait. Two Ukrainian sailors were injured, the Ukrainian ships seized and the crews arrested. The attack has been roundly condemned in the United States and around the world.

The Russian ships intercepted two Ukrainian Gyurza-M-class artillery boats, Berdyansk and Nikopol and a tugboat, Yany Kapu, as they sailed toward the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. Russian forces seized the vessels and arrested 24 crew members. The Don twice rammed the tugboat and the Russian vessels opened fire on the two smaller Ukrainian warships. The incident occurred in the territorial sea along the approaches to the Kerch Strait, which is bordered in the east by Russia and in the west by Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea. The Russian government stated that its forces fired only after the Ukrainian ships violated articles 19 and 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) concerning innocent passage in the territorial sea.

Exploring the legal circumstances of the incident requires selection between peacetime rules of the law of the sea and the law of naval warfare, which applies to international armed conflicts. This post concludes that the actual incident on the water is part of a continuing aggression by Russia against Ukraine, in violation of the UN Charter. While unlawful as a matter of the jus ad bellum, the incident would be a lawful in bello use of force by Russia in accordance with the law of naval warfare, notwithstanding Russia’s unlawful invasion of Crimea in 2014 or subsequent unlawful treatment of the Ukrainian sailors as common criminals rather than prisoners of war. In this case the law of naval warfare is lex specialis and supplants mutatis mutandis the peacetime rules of the international law of the sea for Russia and the Ukraine.

Read the rest of this entry…

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