Archive of posts for category
Law of the Sea

Law of the Sea Symposium: Ilias Plakokefalos Comments on Yoshinobu Takei’s post

by Ilias Plakokefalos

[Dr Ilias Plakokefalos is a post-doctoral researcher at the SHARES Project at the Amsterdam Center of International Law, University of Amsterdam]

Cross-posted at SHARES Blog.

Takei asks whether there is a role for responsibility in international fisheries management, and he proceeds to reply-correctly so- in the affirmative. The blog eloquently presents all possible scenarios, in terms of the law of fisheries, wherein issues of state responsibility might arise. Therefore the purpose of this comment will be to highlight some questions from the viewpoint of the law of responsibility. Two intertwined points merit closer scrutiny. The first relates to the primary rules and the second to the application of the rules on responsibility.

First, it is clear that the law of responsibility does not operate in a vacuum. In other words its application hinges upon the primary obligations. In the area of fisheries management these obligations are not very well laid out. This can be readily inferred from Takei’s post but also from a cursory reading of the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC). While, for example, flag states seem to have a clear obligation to take measures to control their fishing vessels in the high seas (arts. 62(4), 87(1), 117) the obligation to do the same in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of third states is not as clear. It has to be inferred from a combined reading of articles 56 (1) (a), 56 (1) (b) (iii), 61, 62, 73 that impose conservation obligations on the coastal states and article 58 that posits that third states shall have due regard of the rights and duties of the coastal state. Then the question becomes what is the nature of this obligation. Surely, it is not an obligation of result. The language employed (take appropriate measures, have due regard etc.) point towards an obligation of due diligence. The last step would be to define what amounts to diligent behavior in this case. The scenario where a coastal state invokes the responsibility of a flag state (e.g.for violations either of its laws in the EEZ) may materialize. This is the point where the recent request for an advisory opinion by the Sub-regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC) from the ITLOS might offer useful insights.

This scenario brings us to the issue of the obligations of the coastal states in their EEZ. (more…)

Law of the Sea Symposium: Tim Stephens Comments on Yoshinobu Takei’s post

by Tim Stephens

[Dr Tim Stephens is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney.]

Cross-posted at SHARES Blog.

Yoshinobu Takei’s interesting post charts recent developments in international fisheries law that have attempted to respond to the ongoing ‘tragedy of the commons’ that flows from the dominance of the Grotian vision of the high seas as a domain of freedom (to fish, and to enjoy the other accepted high seas freedoms). Concerted attention from the 1970s onwards has resulted in an extensive body of international fisheries law, built upon the foundations provided by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS sought to deal with the tragedy of the commons primarily by arrogating to coastal states large swathes of ocean space within the EEZ. That left the problem of shared, straddling, migratory, and high seas fisheries.

None of these have received the same regulatory attention until relatively recently, and since the UN Fish Stocks Agreement was adopted in 1995 there has been many initiatives to strengthen the hand of responsible states in combating unsustainable and irresponsible fishing practices, particularly on the high seas. The main arena of activity (with some notable exceptions, such as the Southern Bluefin Tuna Case) has not been the in the context of state responsibility, but has instead been in the establishment and strengthening of fisheries regimes. These have been sites of considerable international legal innovation, as seen in the adoption of various ‘hard’ (e.g. enhanced port state jurisdiction) and ‘soft’ (e.g. naming and shaming flag of convenience states lending registration to IUU vessels) measures to combat IUU fishing.

The recently requested ITLOS Advisory Opinion may signal a renewed turn to international judicial fora in an effort to enforce international fisheries law. This is a welcome development, given the continued decline in abundance of most major fish-stocks.

Law of the Sea Symposium: Is there a major role for the law of responsibility in international fisheries management?

by Yoshinobu Takei

[Dr Yoshinobu Takei is a Research Associate at the Walther Schücking Institute for International Law, University of Kiel]

Cross-posted at SHARES Blog.

First of all, I wish to thank Opinio Juris and SHARES for inviting me to participate in this highly interesting symposium. In my post, I will analyze the relevance of the law of responsibility in a fisheries context, describe some of the recent developments in this field and highlight some points for discussion.

On 9 May 2013, a Taiwanese fishing boat was shot by a Philippine government vessel and the incident resulted in the death of a crew member onboard the fishing boat as well as serious damage to the boat. The Taiwanese government demanded the Philippine government “to respond to four demands: a formal apology; compensation; an expeditious investigation followed by the severe punishment of the perpetrators, and the speedy arrangement of negotiations on fishery matters” (Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs), although the Philippine government claimed that their law enforcement was obstructed by the attempted attack by the boat in question and they were therefore forced to open fire. This sad incident again testifies that state responsibility plays an important role in a fisheries context.

After several decades of uncertainty over the jurisdictional framework for marine capture fisheries, during which states focused on multilateral treaty negotiations rather than invoking state responsibility with a few notable exceptions such as the Fisheries Jurisdiction cases brought against Iceland before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the issue of state responsibility has gained momentum in contemporary discussions on international fisheries management. (more…)

Law of the Sea Symposium: A Comment on Seline Trevisanut’s post

by Tim Stephens

[Dr Tim Stephens is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney.]

Cross-posted at SHARES Blog.

Seline Trevisanut provides a very helpful analysis of some of the significant gaps in the system (if we can call it that) of responsibility in international law for the welfare of those who find themselves in distress at sea. Regrettably, there has been an increase in tragic maritime incidents involving asylum seekers in recent years, not only in the Mediterranean, but also in other oceans seas including the Indian Ocean where several vessels carrying asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia have foundered, and there has been significant loss of life. The death toll from the 20 vessels that have sunk en route to Australia since 2009 now stands at nearly 900. There is an urgent need to clarify the international legal duties upon states to ensure that such tragedies are avoided, and that when sinkings do occur that search and rescue authorities respond promptly and effectively.

As Seline explains, there remains uncertainty, in some situations, as to the chain of responsibility for safeguarding the right to life that persons in distress enjoy. From a human rights perspective, that right can only be enforceable if the relevant individuals are within the jurisdiction of a state, but the jurisdictional status may be uncertain, depending upon where the maritime emergency occurs. Seline makes a compelling argument for treating persons within a Search and Rescue Region (SRR) as within the jurisdiction of the relevant SAR state for the purposes of international human rights law. However, that is often not the end of the enquiry; as not all states are able to discharge their SAR obligations to the same level of diligence, and may not have a system of human rights accountability so that victims and their families can pursue redress.

To illustrate this point by reference to the Australian situation, many asylum seeker vessels become distressed within the Indonesian SRR, and under the SAR Convention it remains Indonesia’s primary responsibility to render assistance. However the situation is somewhat unique in that most of the vessels are usually detected by Australian authorities which then pass the information on to their Indonesian counterparts, who they know have highly constrained capacity to mount a response far from shore, particularly in challenging sea conditions. What this indicates, is that there is a need to clarify (and possibly extend) the search and rescue obligations of parties to the SAR Convention to address such situations where there is a significant mismatch between states in their SAR capacities. Those in peril at sea should not be allowed to be in a ‘legal limbo’, falling between the cracks in the law.

Law of the Sea Symposium: Search and Rescue Operations at Sea – Who is in Charge? Who is Responsible?

by Seline Trevisanut

[Dr Seline Trevisanut is a Marie Curie Fellow and Assistant Professor at the Netherlands Institute for the Law of the Sea (NILOS)]

Cross-posted at SHARES Blog.

On Sunday, 8 May 2011, the British newspaper The Guardian reported the story of a boat carrying 72 persons, among them asylum seekers, women and children, which left Tripoli (Libya) for the Italian island of Lampedusa at the end of March 2011 (for comments, see here and here). After 16 days at sea, the boat was washed up on the Libyan shore with only 11 survivors. During the 16 days route, survivors told that they used their satellite phone, which later ran out of battery, to call an Eritrean priest in Rome for help (see Resolution 1872 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe). The priest alerted the Italian Maritime Regional Coordination Centre, which located the migrants’ vessel and sent out many calls to the ships in the area. Pursuant to survivors’ testimonies, on about the tenth day of their voyage, when half of the passengers were dead, a large aircraft carrier or helicopter-carrying vessel (probably involved in the NATO’s Operation Unified Protector, which was on going at that time off the Libyan shores) sailed near to the boat, close enough for the survivors to see the sailors on board looking at them with binoculars and taking photos. But no one rescued them.

Flag states and coastal states have a duty to render assistance to persons found at sea in the danger of being lost and people in distress (Article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)). This core obligation under both treaty law (see also the 1974 Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS Convention), the 1979 Search and Rescue Convention (SAR Convention) and the 1989 International Convention on Salvage) and customary law applies in any maritime zone and in relation to any activity there performed. While implementing this duty states can either perform directly the search and rescue (SAR) operations, namely through their own SAR services, or ask a vessel, which is located in the proximity of the endangered persons, be it any merchant ship or the state vessel of another country, to perform the rescue operation.

The texts here mentioned expressly refers to states, flag or coastal. Practice however offers more and more examples of police activities performed under the command of an international organization or a supranational body. A question then arises:

  • who are the bearers of the obligation? Namely, are those ‘entities’ (such as NATO) bound by the duty to render assistance?

The answer could be affirmative only if we consider that the duty to render assistance under customary international law has a wider scope of application ratione personae, if compared with the same obligation under treaty law. The practice however does not allow yet such a conclusion.

Another question raised by recent practice concerns the recipient of the obligation:

  • Is the duty to render assistance a purely inter-state obligation or does it entail a right to be rescued for people in distress at sea?


Law of the Sea Symposium: Maybe Non-State Actors Are More Important than States

by Julian Ku

Irini Papanicolopulu highlights the important and sometimes central role that non-state actors have in the whaling disputes between Japan and Australia.  Invoking the traditional lens of international law, she considers whether the actions of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) or the Institute for Cetacean Research can implicate state responsibility. Her conclusion is properly uncertain given the murky relationships between Australia and Japan and the relevant non-state actors.  But I wonder if she is asking the wrong question.

The problem of individual non-state actors acting as possible proxies for states is hardly a new problem of international law.  One only has to review the long history of U.S. “filibustering” expeditions into the Caribbean and Central America to find historical examples of individual non-state actors effectively advancing the interests of a state like the United States, even as the U.S. carefully avoided direct support or responsibility.  A U.S. citizen named William Walker, for instance, very nearly brought Nicaragua into the United States through his “private” but tacitly U.S. government supported expeditions (Similar efforts were launched against Cuba and Hawaii, with varying success). In these cases, a private actor is advancing a sovereign’s interest, and the case for state responsibility becomes obvious.

What makes the Australia/Sea Shepherd v. Japan/Institute for Cetacean Research dispute so interesting, however, is the possibility that neither SSCS nor ICR are actually acting in a way that would advance their state’s interests.  We then enter a world where private non-state actors are truly engaged in a private war outside the territorial jurisdiction of any nation.   The private actors in question are truly motivated by their individual interests, and, if anything, they are driving sovereign state policy rather than the other way around.  In this situation, the non-state actors are primary players, but because they operate effectively free from domestic regulations or restraints, their clashes are not clearly governed by international or domestic laws. Hence, the U.S. Court of Appeals’ efforts to squeeze the SSCS in the “pirate” category does seem a stretch. But given the paucity of other regulations for purely private actors on the high seas, it seems defensible or at least more understandable.

Law of the Sea Symposium: Whaling wars, non-state actors and international responsibility

by Irini Papanicolopulu

[Dr Irini Papanicolopulu is a Lecturer at the University of Glasgow and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Milano-Bicocca]

Cross-posted at SHARES blog.

Whaling disputes are multifaceted. While Australia and Japan are confronting each other in The Hague (see the post by Natalie Klein), Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), an American NGO, and the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), a Japanese research institution, fight strenuously in court and at sea. Following the moratorium on commercial whaling decided by the International Whaling Commission in 1984, Japan has licensed ICR to conduct research projects involving the killing of numerous whales. ICR activities, however, are increasingly physically hampered by SSCS vessels, which harass ICR vessels on the high seas. As already noted on this blog, in February the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court and granted ICR a preliminary injunction against SSCS, defining the latter as ‘pirates’. And while ICR is threatening contempt action against them, SSCS for their part have initiated proceedings in front of a Dutch judge for violation of environmental laws by ICR.

The fight between SSCS and ICR reserves many dramatic turns and much suspense but … is there any room for issues of international responsibility in a case that pits one private entity against another private entity? Is not this a matter for domestic jurisdiction or, at most, an issue for conflicts of law? Not entirely: the presence of actors other than States adds complexity to issues of international responsibility and raises a number of questions. Two strands are significant. In the first place, the presence of individuals does not automatically rule out the State. States always act through individuals or other entities, their organs, and they can endorse or support the conduct of subjects other than their own organs. If Japan endorses or supports the acts of ICR, or if Australia supports the activities of SSCS, the States can incur responsibility directly, for breach of international obligations. In the second place, the dispute between SSCS and ICR raises issues relating to the subjectivity of non-state actors at the international level, and the extent to which they may make use of, or be subject to, the rules regulating international responsibility.

From among the many issues involving whaling disputes and international responsibility, I will briefly address three. (more…)

Law of the Sea Symposium: A Comment on Natalie Klein’s post

by Tim Stephens

[Dr Tim Stephens is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney.]

Cross-posted at SHARES blog.

Natalie Klein has drawn attention to a longstanding weakness in those fields of international law, including international environmental law, devoted to serve collective interests, in matching obligations with rules of responsibility for their breach. The law of state responsibility applies in a fairly straightforward way to situations where there is an obligation under a treaty to protect the environment, that is violated by a treaty party, with clear impacts upon another party. However, as Klein points out, when it comes to iconic whale and shark (and indeed other) species found on the high seas the responsibility situation may be far from straightforward, and this can frustrate efforts to enforce conservation rules.

In the Whaling in the Antarctic Case before the ICJ, Australia contends that Japan has breached the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) because it is engaging in commercial whaling, in contravention of the moratorium adopted under the ICRW. Australia has not made express its arguments on standing, such as by asserting any special interest in Japan’s conduct above and beyond that of any other party to the ICRW. It is difficult to see how there is any such special or defined interest. Were the ICJ to apply the conventional standing approach this would seem to disentitle Australia from raising this complaint in the ICJ. It could also rule out any challenge by any state against Japan’s whaling program. The net effect is that there could be no party at all able to invoke the potential responsibility of Japan under the ICRW.

This is a clearly undesirable situation. As Klein observes, whales may not have their own legal rights (but of course there is a tremendous philosophical literature on precisely this point). But there is a mechanism, set out in Article 48 of the International Law Commission’s Articles on State Responsibility, for states to seek to defend common environmental values. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea referred to Article 48 in its Advisory Opinion on the Deep Seabed and concluded that where there is damage to the environment from mining the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction ‘each…party [to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea] may…be entitled to claim compensation in light of the erga omnes character of the obligations relating to the preservation of the marine environment of the high seas and in the Area.’ (at [180]). And the ICJ in Questions Relating to the Obligation to Prosecute of Extradite also concluded that any party to the Torture Convention may invoke the failure of another party to comply with the obligations erga omnes partes established by it (see [68]-[69]).

It remains to be seen how the ICJ will approach these issues in the Whaling in the Antarctic Case, however it is to be hoped that the Court will refer to and endorse Article 48 of the ASR which provides an important avenue for public interest international environmental claims to be pursued.

Law of the Sea Symposium: What Responsibility over Iconic Marine Living Resources?

by Natalie Klein

[Dr Natalie Klein is Professor and Dean of Macquarie Law School, Australia]

Cross-posted at SHARES blog.

One of the most successful environmental campaigns was captured by the slogan of ‘Save the Whales’. It was apparently when the Australian Prime Minister’s daughter returned home from school sporting a Save the Whales badge that the initial impetus was provided for Australia to shift from pro-whaling nation to anti-whaling. Over the decades, we have seen a fundamental change in the legal regulation of whaling: from minimal regulation and maximum exploitation to a zero-catch quota (colloquially known as the moratorium) on commercial whaling under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). There has been resistance to this moratorium – from those states that never agreed to the imposition of a moratorium and those states that seem to thwart the moratorium by conducting commercial whaling under the guise of legally permissible scientific whaling, as Australia asserts Japan is doing.  If we are to maintain legal standards in the conduct of whaling then how can states be held responsible?

In considering the intersection of the law of responsibility in relation to whaling, there is an initial question as to whom the obligation is owed? (more…)

Symposium on the Law of the Sea and the Law of Responsibility

by Kristen Boon

This week we are delighted to bring you a symposium exploring the intersection between the law of responsibility and the law of the sea.   The motivation for this symposium is twofold:

First, although there is long interaction between the law of the sea and the law of responsibility, the law of the sea has become an area where the intersection is of increasing importance.  The posts this week will highlight the ways in which the law of responsibility is being invoked in current controversies involving marine species and resources like whales, sharks and fisheries; and examine the role of the law of responsibility in recent cases involving search and rescue operations, flagged ships, and whaling.  The posts will also show that in some instances, there are gaps in the general rules of responsibility that render them inadequate or inappropriate for certain types of disputes with regards to the law of the sea.  A dimension of particular interest in this regard will be instances in which questions of shared responsibility arise; these posts will be cross-posted on the SHARES website at the University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Law.

Although we cover law of the sea issues from time to time here at OJ, its not a field we post on regularly.   The second goal behind this symposium is therefore to engage in a sustained discussion on developments of note with experts in Europe, North America, and Australia.

Our bloggers and commentators this week include:   Natalie Klein, Yoshinobu Takei, Irini Papanicolopulu, Seline Trevisanut, Anastasia Telesetsky, Tim Stephens and Ilias Plakokefalos.

I hope you enjoy the topic, and we look forward to lively exchanges and comments.

The First Serious Defense of China’s Position on the Philippines UNCLOS Arbitration

by Julian Ku

Professor Stefan Talmon of the University of Bonn and St. Anne’s College in Oxford offers one of the first serious attempts to defend China’s position on the UNCLOS arbitration brought by the Philippines.  In an essay published by the Global Times, China’s hawkish state-owned daily paper, Professor Talmon argues that all of the Philippines’ claims against China fall outside of the jurisdiction of the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal.

For example, the claim that China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea based on the so-called nine-dash line are invalid, the claim that China has unlawfully claimed maritime entitlements beyond 12 nautical miles around certain insular features and has prevented Philippine vessels from fishing in the waters adjacent to those features, and the claim that China has unlawfully interfered with the exercise by the Philippines of its right to navigation and other rights cannot be decided without touching upon China’s claim to historic title and rights within the area of the nine-dash line.

In addition, any measures taken by China against the Philippine vessels may also be subject to the “law enforcement activities” exception with regard to fisheries matters or may be excluded as an exercise of China’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction provided by UNCLOS.

The claim that China unlawfully occupies certain low-tide elevations in the South China Sea cannot be addressed without dealing with the question of sovereignty or other rights over these insular land territories.

Finally, declarations that certain submerged features form part of the continental shelf of the Philippines, that China has unlawfully exploited the living and non-living resources in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and that China has interfered with the Philippines’ right to navigation and other rights in areas within and beyond 200 nautical miles of the Philippines cannot be made without engaging in sea boundary delimitations.

I have to admit I am not very persuaded by this analysis. In Prof. Talmon’s defense, the essay is very short and not an attempt to provide a deep legal analysis of the problem.  But the idea that any challenge to the nine-dash line is excluded from UNCLOS arbitration is hardly obvious to me, since the basis of China’s nine-dash line is very murky anyway. It is not an historic bay.  I suppose it could be an “historic title” within the meaning of Article 298, but that is hardly obvious. Under Prof. Talmon’s reading, any claim of historic title, even if it undermines all of the other principles of UNCLOS, are outside the jurisdiction of the UNCLOS tribunal.

Similarly, when the Philippines argues that something is a “rock” and not an “island” under the definition of UNCLOS, I don’t see how that requires a sea boundary determination?

Most importantly, I can’t see how Prof. Talmon can avoid the question of why China is not even bothering to make these jurisdictional arguments in the UNCLOS tribunal. It is an oddly disrespectful move, to say the least, for China to essentially boycott the tribunal. Does Prof. Talmon think the Philippines case is so weak that ignoring the arbitration is justified?

Still, it is worth exploring these questions, since the arbitral tribunal will likely do so. I would hope Prof. Talmon has a longer version of his views posted somewhere, and if not, he is welcome to do so here at any time!


Questions About the Mavi Marmara Referral

by Kevin Jon Heller

In my previous post, I expressed my skepticism that the OTP will open a formal investigation into the situation — loosely defined — involving Israel’s attack on the MV Mavi Marmara. In this post, I want to raise two issues concerning Comoros’ referral that I find particularly troubling.

First, why is Comoros being represented by Turkish lawyers, the Elmadag Law Firm Istanbul? There is nothing wrong with a state outsourcing its legal work, of course, and most of the victims of the attack on the MV Mavi Marmara were Turkish. But if the referral is really being driven by Comoros, you’d think the government would be relying on lawyers in its Ministry of Justice — or at least on a Comorian law firm. Instead, the Comoros hired a foreign law firm that has already unsuccessfully requested, on behalf of victims and a Turkish NGO, the OTP to investigate the attack on the flotilla. (See para. 9 of the referral.) That suggests, in my view, that this new request is a “state referral” in name only — a smart litigation strategy, but a curious one.

Second, why now? The attack on the flotilla took place nearly three years ago, yet Comoros is only now referring the situation to the Court. The timing seems particularly curious given that Israel and Turkey appear to be making genuine diplomatic progress in resolving the Mavi Marmara crisis. Just a few weeks ago, Haaretz reported that Israel has agreed to pay “as much as tens of millions of dollars” in compensation to the Turkish citizens wounded and killed during the attack. This latest effort to get the ICC to investigate will not only fail, it could well harm negotiations between Israel and Turkey — especially as one of the points that apparently remains to be resolved is whether Turkey is willing to immunize the IDF soldiers involved in the attack. Indeed, a cynic might suggest that this new referral is designed to undermine those negotiations.

This referral clearly puts Fatou Bensouda in a difficult situation. My hope is that she will conclude her preliminary examination quickly and will release a detailed explain of why (I predict) the OTP is not opening a formal investigation into the attack on the flotilla. Doing so would provide Bensouda with an opportunity to affirm the Court’s potential jurisdiction over the attack — Article 12(2) means what it says about a ship qualifying as a state’s territory, although I assume the drafters of the article assumed that the OTP would investigate crimes committed at sea only as part of a larger situation — while explaining why it would not be appropriate for the OTP to investigate only one small aspect, and only one side, of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

UPDATE: Make sure to read excellent posts on the referral by Bill Schabas and Dapo Akande.