High Seas Governance Must Take Account of Existing IMO Framework.

12 July, 17

At the United Nations in New York, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) is representing shipowners at a UN Preparatory Committee which is developing a new legal instrument, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which will apply to ‘high seas’ areas beyond national jurisdiction.The principal aim of this UN work is to address the vacuum that exists with respect to issues such as preserving global fish stocks from unregulated fishing, and damage to marine ecosystems from ocean acidification and plastics caused by land based agriculture and industry.

ICS says that developing new measures applicable to the high seas is undoubtedly a very important and legitimate exercise, but that it wishes to ensure that the interests of shipping will not be unwittingly damaged. The new UN instrument is likely to permit area-based management tools such as Marine Protected Areas being developed for the high seas, as well as potentially addressing complex issues, such as liability for environmental damage, for which shipping already has very detailed global regulations in place. ICS therefore fully supports the statement made to the UN meeting by the shipping industry’s global regulator, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), setting out the extent to which shipping already enjoys a long-established and very comprehensive framework of IMO Conventions and rules which are implemented and enforced on a worldwide basis.

From New York, ICS Director Legal Affairs, Kiran Khosla, commented:

“Whatever might be decided in the future, great care should be taken by governments with regard to the maintenance of freedom of the high seas, rights of navigation currently enshrined within UNCLOS, and the current balance that exists between the rights and obligations of flag states, coastal states and port states.”

She added “In the context of regulating international shipping, the current balance has worked very well, as shown by the dramatic reduction in the number of pollution incidents from ships.  It will therefore be important for the UN Committee to take account of any potential overlap or duplication with existing IMO Conventions, as well as the mechanisms that already exist for compensating oil pollution damage from ships, with up to one billion US dollars already being available to compensate those affected by a single spill regardless of fault.”

The work of the UN Preparatory Committee should eventually lead to a high level Diplomatic Conference, possibly within the next two years, which is expected to adopt a new UNCLOS agreement on the ‘Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction’.



According to ITOPF, on average there were only 1.7 major oil spills (over 700 tonnes) per year from 2010-2016 compared to 24.5 major spills per year in the 1970s, despite a considerable increase in maritime trade.

As a result of global IMO regulation, the maximum sulphur context of marine fuel will reduce to 0.5% in 2020 compared to 4.5% in 2005, with a sulphur content of no more than 0.1% being permitted, since 2015, in emission control areas approved by IMO.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) is the principal international trade association for shipowners and operators, concerned with all technical, legal employment affairs and policy issues that may affect international shipping. ICS membership comprises national shipowners’ associations in Asia, Europe and the Americas whose member shipping companies operate over 80% of the world’s merchant tonnage.

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