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International Conference Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Opening for Signature of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea

Yeosu, Republic of Korea

August 12, 2012

International Conference Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Opening for Signature of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea
Yeosu, Republic of Korea
12 August 2012
Speech by Koji Sekimizu
Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization

Vice-Minister Kim, Ambassador Koh, President of the International Tribunal, Ambassador Yanai, Under Secretary-General Patricia O'Brien and colleagues of the United Nations, Distinguished guest speakers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning,
 
Water covers around 70 per cent of our planet’s surface. Not only is it vital – in the strictly literal sense of the word – but it also provides a resource that supports our society in so many different ways. The world’s oceans provide raw materials, energy, food, employment, a place to live, a place to relax and the means to transport about 90 per cent of global trade.
 
The very identity of hundreds of countries and regions around the world is historically and geographically entwined with the sea and the oceans. But, beyond the waters immediately adjacent to a country’s coastline, the seas and oceans of our planet had historically been considered as free to all and belonging to none.
 
However, by the middle of the 20th century, there was a growing concern that this would no longer be appropriate for the way the world is structured and the demands of mankind making of the seas and oceans.
 
Competing claims over offshore resources, pressure on fish stocks, the risk of pollution from shipping and other sea-based activities all contributed towards a tension that threatened to turn the seas into an arena of conflict and instability.
 
And it was from a concern that use of the sea and the ability to benefit from its resources should not be a free-for-all that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – UNCLOS – emerged. The nations of the world began to understand that a shared, agreed and commonly understood framework to govern use of the world’s maritime spaces was the best way forward.
 
We will hear in great detail today about the achievements of UNCLOS since it was opened for signature in 1982.
 
What today’s proceedings will serve to emphasize, I am certain, is how far-reaching, multi-faceted and ambitious a treaty this is. Among the areas it covers can be counted navigational rights, territorial sea limits and other maritime zones, economic rights, the legal status of resources on the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, the passage of ships through narrow straits, the conservation and management of living marine resources, the protection of the marine environment, piracy and, of considerable significance, enforcement provisions, a binding procedure for the settlement of disputes between States and the creation of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
 
It is, in short, an unprecedented attempt by the international community to regulate all aspects of the resources of the sea and uses of the ocean, and thus bring a stable order to mankind's very source of life: hardly surprising that Mr. Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, UN Secretary-General at the time, described it in 1982 as “possibly the most significant legal instrument of this century”.
 
From our perspective, in the International Maritime Organization, UNCLOS underpins the legitimacy for a great deal of what we do. For, although IMO predates UNCLOS and exists and operates separately from, and independently of it, several of its provisions refer to the “competent international organization” in connection with the adoption of international shipping rules and standards in matters concerning maritime safety, efficiency of navigation and the prevention and control of marine pollution from vessels and by dumping. In such cases it is well understood that the expression “competent international organization” applies exclusively to IMO, bearing in mind the global mandate of the Organization as a specialized agency within the United Nations system, with particular responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and for maintaining and improving the marine environment.
 
And it goes without saying that, in carrying out its mandate, IMO takes care to operate within the legal framework provided by UNCLOS.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, this year is a remarkable year. Forty years ago, the United Nations held the first-ever UN Conference on Environment at Stockholm. Thirty years ago, as we all know, UNCLOS was established. Then twenty years ago, we all went to Rio for the Earth Summit which adopted Agenda 21; ten years ago, the World Summit on the Sustainable Development was held at Johannesburg; and, this year, we all again gathered at Rio for the UN Conference to reaffirm our commitment to the Sustainable Development.
 
For the maritime fields, I am convinced that we should develop Sustainable Development Goals for the maritime industry, taking into account the need for the following eight principles:
 
1. safety culture and environment stewardship;
2. energy efficiency;
3. new technology and innovation;
4. maritime education and training;
5. maritime security and anti-piracy measures;
6. maritime traffic management;
7. maritime infrastructure; and
8. global standards developed and maintained by IMO.
 
All of them need integrated policy coordination and these should be developed within the framework of UNCLOS.
Of course, like all hugely challenging endeavours, the implementation of UNCLOS has faced many obstacles, and it remains a work in progress 30 years after its historic signing. While no-one can be certain exactly what the future holds for UNCLOS, one thing we can be sure of is that its stewardship remains in excellent hands.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, it has been an honour for me to have been invited to address this conference today, and to have the opportunity to offer my congratulations to the instigators, the creators and the guardians of UNCLOS. I am sure I speak on behalf of everyone in the IMO family and, indeed, the whole of the maritime community when I say that this work has directly transformed the lives of many and had an indirect impact on many more – and always for the better.
 
I am sure that we will have a wonderful and exciting commemorative conference here today and we will all enjoy today’s conference and celebrate the 30th Anniversary of UNCLOS.
 
Thank you.
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