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United Nations Convention on the Law of The Sea

UNCLOS stands for United Nations conventions on the laws of the sea. It was the outcome of the third UN conference in 1982 and came into force internationally on 16th November 1994.
The UNCLOS replaces the older and weaker 'freedom of the seas' concept. The UNCLOS provides a universal legal framework for the National management of marine resources and their conservation. The treaty document consists of 446 articles grouped under 17 part headings and 9 Annexes.
One of the functions of UNCLOS is to allocate responsibility to states for setting some standards and enforcing the same standards in various maritime zones to reduce/control the sources of pollution.


The necessity of UNCLOS was in order
  1. To promote peaceful uses of the seas and ocean
  2. To facilitate international communication
  3. To enable equitable and efficient utilization of oceans resources
  4. To protect and preserve The marine environment
  5. To protect promote maritime safety


Important highlight/salient features of UNCLOS are as follows
  1. It defines international law of the sea
  2. Sets widths of the territorial sea at 12Nm with a contiguous zone at 20Nm
  3. Sets Transit passages through international straits and territorial sea
  4. Sets exclusive economic zone extending 200 Nm
  5. It defines continental self and jurisdiction over the resources of the shelf beyond 200Nm where appropriate
  6. It defines the legal status of the high seas and establishes regulations for the control of the marine pollution
  7. It allows the dispute to be settled in the international court of justice


UNCLOS provisions concerning ship’s flag and nationality
Part VII High seas

Article 90:- Right of navigation
Every state coastal or landlocked has the right to have its ship flying its flag on high seas

Article 91:- Nationality of ships
Every State should lay down conditions/requirements for granting its nationality, registration and the right to fly its flag. Ship’s have the nationality of the state whose flag they are entitled to fly
The state must issue to ship’s flying its flag, documents to that effect There should be a genuine link between the state and the ship

Article 92:- Status of ships
Ships must sail under the flag of one state and are subject to the jurisdiction of the flag state on high seas
The permission for the change of flag is given only in the case of transfer of ownership or change of registry
It also deems that a ship which uses two or more flags according to convenience will be treated as a ship with no nationality

Article 93:- Ships flying the flag of the United Nations, its specialized agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency
It gives provisions for ships to fly the flag on UN or its agencies and IAEA(International Atomic Energy Agency)


Article 94:- Duties of the flag State
1. Each flag state to effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ship’s flying its flag.
2. Maintain a register of the ships.
3. Assume jurisdiction under its internal law over each ship flying its flag and its master, officers, and crew with respect to administrative, technical and social matters concerning the ship.
4. Take such measures for ships flying its flag as are necessary to ensure the safety of the sea with regards to:
a) Construction, equipment, and seaworthiness of the ship
b) Manning of ships, labor conditions, training of crew (STCW & ILO convention)
c) Use of signals, the maintenance of communications and preventions of collisions such measures include i. each ship is surveyed before and after registration by a qualified surveyor of ships and has onboard such charts, nautical publications, navigational equipment and instruments for safe navigation of the ship
ii. each ship is in charge of master and officers who possess appropriate qualifications in seamanship, navigation, communications, and marine engineering and the crew is appropriate in qualification and numbers for the type, size, machinery, and equipment of the ship.
iii. The master, officers, the crew are fully conversant with and required to observe the applicable international conventions like MARPOL, SOLAS, COLREG, GMDSS, etc.
5. In taking the above measures, each state is required to conform to generally accepted international regulations, procedures and practices and to take any steps that may be necessary to secure their observance.
6. A state which has clear grounds to believe that proper jurisdiction and control w.r.t a ship is not exercised may report the facts to the flag state, upon receiving such a report flag state may investigate that matter and if necessary
to take remedial action.
7. Every state must cause an inquiry by a qualified person/s into every marine casualty/incident of navigation and caused the loss of life/damage to other nationals or to a marine environment. The flag state and other states must cooperate in the conduct of inquiry.


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