Statement of Rear Admiral John E. Crowley Jr. on United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
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The Convention recognizes that various UN subsidiary bodies may serve as competent international organizations for the further Conventional development of the law of the sea. IMO has always been the recognized competent international organization for maritime safety and marine environmental protection. It has now assumed a similar role in port facility and vessel security. Acceding to the Convention will enhance Coast Guard efforts to work in the international community through the International Maritime Organization, the International Labor Organization and other UN subsidiary bodies to improve our security measures and to project our maritime domain awareness, consistent with the Convention’s balance of states’ rights to the uses of the oceans. Specifically, we are working now at IMO to build upon the successes achieved by the United States in that body at the December 2002 diplomatic conference. As you know, that diplomatic conference resulted in the landmark amendments to the SOLAS Convention for vessel and port facility security contained in Chapter XI and the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. We have on-going efforts in respect of Conference Resolution 10 to enhance our maritime domain awareness through Long Range Tracking of vessels bound for our ports and waters. These negotiations are taking place in the context of the overwhelming number of nations at IMO being parties to the Law of the Sea Convention. Because of this fact, the Law of the Sea Convention provides the framework for the discussions and agreements. Although we have enjoyed success in the international security agreements so far, those negotiations have not always been easy. Further progress will not be as easy to achieve as our past successes. Frankly, the fact that the United States is not a party to the Law of the Sea Convention, when the overwhelming number of our international partners are parties, has occasionally put us in a difficult negotiating position at IMO. It is our judgment that accession to the Convention will put us in a stronger position at the IMO than we currently enjoy.
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The Convention is also an environmental accord that provides a comprehensive framework for the prevention, reduction, and control of maritime pollution. The Coast Guard conducts a wide-ranging port state control program to purge our waters of substandard ships and is assisting other nations in doing the same. This initiative will be enhanced through the consistent application of the Convention’s broad enforcement mechanisms. Additionally, the Convention carefully balances the rights of coastal states to adopt certain measures to protect the marine environment adjacent to their shores and the general right of a flag state to set and enforce standards and requirements concerning the operation of its vessels. Becoming a party to the Law of the Sea Convention will strengthen the international credibility of the U.S. and our efforts to guide the development of internationally accepted vessel standards, thereby improving marine safety and protection of the marine environment.
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The Coast Guard and other U.S. military forces already rely heavily on the elemental navigation freedoms codified in the Law of the Sea Convention. These protections allow the use of the world’s oceans to meet changing national security requirements. The Convention limits a nation’s territorial sea to no more than 12 nautical miles, beyond which all nations enjoy a high seas navigation regime that includes the freedom to engage in law enforcement activities. The Convention codifies the right to operate freely beyond a nation’s territorial sea and protects this right by limiting excessive maritime claims that often have the effect of creating maritime safe havens for drug traffickers and other criminals. In fiscal year 2003, the Coast Guard maritime interdiction operations occurring on international waters resulted in the seizure of over 135,000 pounds of cocaine, 56 vessels, and 207 arrests. In keeping with our aggressive international crime control strategy, most of these seizures took place on distant maritime transit routes far from our shores. However, during bi-lateral negotiations, several nations have, in the past, questioned our authority to contest certain of their excessive maritime claims simply because we have yet to ratify the treaty. Becoming a party to the Convention will enhance our ability to conduct such interdiction operations and to refute excessive maritime claims. Rather than only basing our law enforcement operations on customary international law, the United States should become a conspicuous and leading party to the treaty that codifies these important navigational rights.