Environmental acts and policies affecting maritime law

Environmental acts and policies affecting maritime law

by | 18 Nov 2014

Maritime law is the rules and regulations that standardize activities at sea. Our seas and ocean are one of the most endangered resources that we have on our planet. The focus of policy makers is to protect the oceans and maritime life from danger and mistreat. In the same time, with increased consumption and demand for goods all around the world, there is a rapid growth in the shipping industry. The challenge for any business dealing with the maritime environment is to continue adhering to maritime laws affected by environmental acts.
The clash between increased demand and growing concerns for the oceans and maritime wildlife are the two factors most strongly affecting any activities at sea.
With the development of the modern maritime laws and the growing concerns about ocean conservation, a number of legislations have been passed internationally to address challenges of air and water pollution, protection of species including mammals, and keeping the biodiversity.
The goal of international environmental laws affecting the maritime legal framework is to provide a road for progress and development in the way we treat our oceans.
Environmental protection laws and legislations provide away of protecting a resource that is essential for the survival of people – nutrition, transportation, science and industry are all affected by the conditions of the oceans. It is important to understand and apply the international environmental legislations to the marine industry to be able to meet the coming challenges that the climate change will present to us.

Two Kinds Of Legislations

In this article we are looking at the most important international laws affecting the global marine industry and activities.

One of the biggest challenges to a uniform international environmental law has been the difference in the opinions of developed countries and less developed ones. For the first, the protection of the natural resources has become a priority while the latter see the exploitation of natural resources as a road to economic growth.

This wide difference first became clear at the 1972 Stockholm Conference for Human Environment. That was one of the first international conferences to address the issues of environmental conservation and its principles are still valid. The result of this conference is the creation of UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) asa subsidiary organ of the UN.
The job of UNEP is to control the adherence to the “Stockholm Declaration”which includes provisions about:
– responsibility to protect and improve the environment
– responsibility to protect the wildlife
– responsibility to protect natural habitats (especially important for maritime law as the oceans are the natural habitat of hundreds of species)
– protection of natural resources and provisions against exhausting them- avoiding any possible pollution of oceans
– protecting marine life and living resources- interfering with legitimate uses of sea (as restricting access or limiting wildlife’s movements)
However, the Stockholm Declaration has a limited application. Some of its principles give sovereignty to separate states to exploit their national resources as they see fit without causing damage to the resources of any other state or area.
Although vague and with no strong legislative power the Stockholm Declaration started a series of conferences and international discussions that have stronger effect on maritime laws. What became clear on this first international environmental conference is that that regarding the maritime law, there are two areas where environmental legislations matter: protecting wildlife and decreasing pollution.
The law guiding marine activities has been an active international law for hundreds of years. Up to the 20th century, however, international maritime law has been mostly concerned with borders at seas and oceans and the issue of piracy.
With the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) an actual consideration of the environmental impact of marine activities starts.
There have been a number of conventions from 1958 to the decisive one in 1982 and each one addressed more issues of the environment and how it is affected by marine activities.
Currently, there are four conventions by the UNCO governing activities at sea. Three of them are concerned with territorial issues: Convention on The TerritorialSea and the Contiguous Zone, Convention on High Seas, andConvention on the Continental Shelf.
The fourth one, the act that concerns environment and the marine activities is part XII of UNCLOS – “Protection andPreservation of the Marine Environment”. It deals with the obligations and responsibilities, both general and specific, of various states to reduce, avoid and manage pollution in all its forms.

Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment

The preceding acts, dealing with territorial regulations,are important in the light of environmental legislations because they define which state is responsible for the preservation of marine environment.
As the legislative and regulatory power of coastal states is reduced at high seas, the responsibility to protect the marine environment from pollution has a wider reach and affects marine and coastal states in the same way.
The UNCLOS, however, encourages and requires states to have their own marine conservation laws. The above-mentioned conventions allow states to act independently regarding exploiting resources but recommend consistent action in preventing and reducing any marine environment pollution with the best means available.
One of the most essential and forward-thinking provisions of UNCLOS is regarding the protection of marine mammals.The protection of whales and dolphins is the most worrying issue that exists in maritime law. UNCLOS acts regulate the protection of sea mammals in the coastal area as well as in high seas. The exploitation of sea mammals is  prohibited and states are required to limit and regulate any activities that might affect marine mammals. The most important issue here is that the identification of sea mammals as species that need special protection and it affects many coastal and maritime rules and regulations on state level.
All of those acts and regulations make UNCLOS the most valuable tool in marine life and habitat conservation.UNCLOS provides a framework for further development in the area of environmental and maritime law and addresses issues of the law at sea that are essential for the conservation of this natural resource, on which we all depend.
Following those initial steps, further treaties regarding marine life conservation have been put into action, such as the 1995 United Nations Agreement on Straddling FishStocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, that ensure the conservation, long-term use and management of such stocks.
However, there are a number of other organizations and treaties that protect the oceans and affect the maritime laws on national and international level.
One of them is the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that oversees a number of agreements meant to protect the wildlife and sea environment. Some of those are International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships of 1973 (MARPOL) and the 1954International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (the “OILPOL Convention”).

Who enforces the environmental marine law?

The enforcing bodies are subsidiaries of the UN and have the power to assist and resolve issues originating from the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. Some of these are:
– The International Seabed Authority allows states parties to initiate and manage activities relating
to extraction of mineral resources in the international seabed area.  – And there is also The International Tribunal for theLaw of the Sea that assists with interpretation and application of the conventions.
– Lastly, the Commission on the Limits of theContinental Shelf uses scientific and technical methods to define the limits of the continental shelf in special cases.
All of the activities of these bodies might have affect on national and international maritime law.

Latest Developments In Marine Life Conservation

The latest concerns of maritime legislators have been regarding the growing attention put on the Arctic Ocean and the affect of greenhouse gas emissions from shipping vessels.
One of the biggest issues with the Arctic Ocean is thelack of clear line to where the continental shelf end (asdefined by UNCLOS) and whose responsibility is the protection and conservation of its waters. According toUNCLOS, states have the to exploit natural resources on the continental shelf, but in the international seabed, the International Seabed Authority has the right to manage the oceans on behalf of all states.

How does this affect maritime law?

There are several overlapping seabed claims from Russia,Denmark, Norway, Canada and Greenland in the Arctic. The provisions are that disputes might arise and everything will depend on the goodwill of states and creating mutually acceptable agreements. There is nothing special about the Arctic Ocean in fact, and the UNCLOS legal framework should be enough to resolve any issues.However, the nature of the reserves in the Arctic is different – this ocean is seen as an untapped resourceful natural minerals and the opportunities of its use and exploitation look interesting for the many states whose interests are involved in the management of the Arctic Ocean.
The resolution of these issues is the first thing that needs to be done in order to preserve the Arctic Ocean.The policies and legislations put in place from the UN and IMO affect the decisions taken in these areas.
One of the latest developments in the Arctic Ocean preservation has been the Polar Code designed by the IMO.The Polar Code is mandatory International Code of safety for ships operating in polar waters. It is concerned with the design, equipment, construction, training and rescue in polar waters.
The provision for the Polar Code is to be put in action in November 2014. The draft Polar Code include obligatory measures on safety, pollution prevention and recommendatory requirements.
In the light of recent environmental protection acts the IMO has given a lot of importance on decreasing the pollution affects of shipping vessels. Decreasing GHG (greenhouse gasses) has been the focus of the entire shipping industry but efforts produce merely satisfactory results in the light of the growing human population and consumption demand. Although shipping at sea is one the most environmentally friendly ways of transport, in 2011technical measures for new ships were implemented together with operational GHG reduction measures for all ships.
This makes the maritime industry the first one with sector-wide mandatory global regulations for reducingGHG.
Environmental protection is gaining more and more supporters among policy makers with the realization that we all depend on the health of the oceans and marine life. Maritime law has not stayed behind in making sure that proper conventions, rules, and regulatory bodies are in place to ensure the protection of the oceans and ocean life. However, further efforts are needed to ensure that all maritime activities undertakers are obliged to reduce and manage pollution and damage to marine wildlife.

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