NEW YORK – The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides a key framework for international maritime rules, marked its 30th anniversary in December.
Tadao Kuribayashi, professor emeritus of Keio University, is one of those who took part in instituting the convention, which, among other things, gave birth to the idea of “exclusive economic zones” that accord countries rights to natural resources in seas up to 200 nautical miles from their coastlines outside territorial waters.
On his recent visit to New York to take part in commemorative events sponsored by the United Nations and other bodies, the scholar noted that the convention has provided an impetus to maritime cooperation among countries.
According to Kuribayashi, the convention was conceived against the backdrop of developing countries raising their voices and profiles in the international community.
“To their eyes, advanced countries just siphoned off interest from the sea, and they gained nothing,” he said of developing economies.
He revealed that an official from an African country at a conference on maritime law once singled out Japanese fishing vessels for sailing too close to the coast of his country and snatching its marine resources.
The EEZ is an example of meeting the calls of such countries. It has served to curb deep-sea fishing boats sent from industrialized economies to catch large quantities of fish off the coast of developing countries.
In the area of international cooperation, Kuribayashi cited efforts at ensuring safe navigation and environmental conservation around the Strait of Malacca.
Coastal countries in the region and countries whose ships sail through the strait cooperated in line with the U.N. convention.
Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, China and Middle Eastern countries have joined what is known as the Cooperative Mechanism for Straits of Malacca and Singapore in order to maintain lighthouses and prevent pollution.
“In order to make a narrow sea area a sea of peace and affluence, cooperation is offered by not just coastal countries but by those who benefit from it,” Kuribayashi said. “That’s a good point” about the convention.
Another “achievement of the convention” is reinforcing the mechanism for maritime dispute resolution between countries through the establishment of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Kuribyashi said.
Initially, the international court “handled many trials where parties sought the early releases of fishing boats caught illegally operating, and later it has come to address the issue of border demarcations between countries (in the sea),” he said. “It is good that it offers options (for dispute resolutions) along with the International Court of Justice.”
But Kuribayashi said territorial disputes over islands between Japan and China or Japan and South Korea cannot be resolved through the framework of the U.N. convention. It is a problem of how these countries want to define their territories.
Given the sovereignty issue involves nationalism and national sentiment, he said, “Resolving the island issue is difficult and it is not a problem in the sphere of maritime laws,” he said.
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