UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 2004

Jun 17, 2004

Full text of speech given to the
Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
United Nations

by Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq.,
Director, SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to the Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. I am speaking on behalf of the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey, which since 1834, has served the world’s merchant mariners irrespective of their race, religion, nationality, gender or beliefs.

Mr. President, I take this opportunity to express my gratitude and admiration for the contributions of recently retired Director of the Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea, Mrs. Annique De Marffy. Mrs. De Marffy is a great champion of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and a compassionate voice for the rights of seafarers. We send her a “Bravo Zulu” (which in naval signaling means “well done”) and wish her “fair winds and following seas”.

I am very pleased that the United Nations has selected my good friend Mr. Vladimir Golitsyn to succeed Mrs. De Marffy. Mr. Golitsyn brings a wealth of technical knowledge, experience and leadership to this important post.

The United Nations has done its part in promoting the ideals of the Law of the Sea Convention by providing the Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea with strong leadership and with exceptionally skilled and dedicated staff. But, the Secretariat can only do so much. Full realization of the UNCLOS promise depends upon strong commitment from the States Parties and upon other maritime nations that support its principles.

This body assembled here today has been commissioned to protect and fulfill the promise of the Law of the Sea Convention. This is a vitally important duty because our collective economies, safety and security, and the protection of the marine environment depend upon maintaining a respect for the rule of law on the oceans of this fragile earth.

Fundamental to the Law of the Sea Convention is the premise that all of the problems of the oceans are closely related. The drafters of the Convention recognized that preserving and protecting an orderly environment for the men and women who work on the seas was crucial to protecting all of the other interests addressed by the UNCLOS and other maritime conventions guided by the UNCLOS principles.

Mr. President, for the past two years, security has preoccupied the maritime world. Governments have mandated a vast array of security measures against the threat of terrorism, and industry has created self-imposed measures. On the first of July, the maritime community will reach a significant milestone when the International Ship and Port Security Code (ISPS) becomes mandatory.

The fundamental principle for assuring security is “domain awareness.” In other words, know your environment, recognize things that are not normal and pay attention on those things that are out of the ordinary. The phrase “responsible, caring, neighbors” also illustrates this idea. Good neighbors help each other by being aware of their neighborhood and vigilant to report unusual activities that pose a threat to their community.

The ISPS relies on ships’ crews to serve as good neighbors in protecting the maritime community from terrorism. Their ability to observe and report suspicious activity onboard their vessel and its surrounding area function as a key element in saving lives and preventing damage and destruction. However, even though the ISPS recognizes seafarers’ essential security role, some coastal states treat ships’ crews as potential terrorists instead of potential victims of terrorism or allies in preventing terrorist attacks. This attitude, manifested by restricting shore leave to ships’ crews, among other measures, ultimately works counter to security by discouraging ships’ crews to cooperate with security authorities.

We are also concerned about the effects that security measures may have on stowaways’ safety. At least one coastal state has imposed a policy of detaining ships’ crews and requiring the ships’ owners to post guards on ships arriving in its ports with stowaways on board. Such policies produce expensive ship delays, expensive security guard bills and unfair denial of shore leave for the crew. The policies also create chilling incentives for ships to jettison stowaways from their ships on the high seas.

Mr. President, we are disturbed by the rise in punitive measures coastal states inflict upon crews of ships involved with pollution incidents. We certainly respect coastal States’ rights to conserve their natural resources and that persons responsible for illegal acts should be held accountable. However, mariners face increasing criminal prosecutions in pollution cases where no criminal culpability exists. As coastal states look for someone to blame in pollution cases, ships’ crews become conveniently scapegoats. Coastal states detain and prosecute crews for strict liability crimes, irrespective of any criminal intent.

Criminalization of ships’ officers and crews for pollution accidents is counter-productive to marine safety and pollution prevention because it discourages crews from participating in casualty investigations - they could jeopardize their rights and risk criminal sanctions by testifying to a casualty investigation- and because it deters skilled people from pursuing shipboard careers.

Mr. President, a pressing question we must consider is: What kind of people do we want to attract to sea-going careers? If we discourage skilled and reliable people from this work, who will operate commercial vessels, and will they have the competence and reliability to keep the oceans safe, clean and secure?

Our economies, our marine resources, our marine environment and our security depend upon merchant mariners, and merchant mariners depend upon the rule of law created by the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention. This Meeting can rise to the challenge. It can assure that the promise of the Convention, which began twenty-two years ago, is fulfilled by encouraging adherence to its rule of law.

When I spoke here last year, I encouraged the Meeting to place a new item on its agenda.

Mr. President, the need for this new item has increased in the last year. I therefore respectfully request that the Meeting of the States Parties to the Law of the Sea Convention place on its agenda, as a priority item:

The protections for persons employed in the workplace of the sea – and a review of how Member States implement the relevant provisions of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention.