Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Oceans and the Law of the Sea



Ambassador Hjálmar W. Hannesson

Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations

60th Session of the General Assembly


Agenda item 75 (a) and (b)

Oceans and the Law of the Sea


At the outset I would like to commend the Secretariat, in particular the able staff of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, headed by Mr. Vladimir Golitsyn, for their comprehensive reports on oceans and the law of the sea and on sustainable fisheries. I would also like to express our appreciation for the other activities of the Division, which reflect the high standard of assistance provided to Member States by the Division.


 Let me furthermore acknowledge the professional manner in which the coordinators, Commander Marcos L. de Almeida of Brazil and Ms. Holly R. Koehler of the United States, conducted the informal consultations on the omnibus and fisheries resolutions. The consultations were both lengthy and challenging this year and we wish to thank all the participants for their constructive contribution. As reflected in the draft omnibus resolution, one of the conclusions of the informal consultations was that their efficiency would have to be further improved in the future by limiting the period of the consultations on both resolutions to a maximum of four weeks in total and by ensuring that the consultations are scheduled in such a way as to avoid overlap with the period in which the Sixth Committee is meeting.


The Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is without doubt one of the biggest achievements in the history of the United Nations, provides the legal framework for all our deliberations on the oceans and the law of the sea. We welcome recent ratifications of the Convention by Latvia, Burkina Faso and Estonia, bringing the number of States Parties up to 149, and urge those States that still have not ratified the Convention to do so in order to achieve the ultimate goal of universal participation. It is imperative that the Convention be fully implemented and that its integrity be preserved. Issues that were settled at the Third Law of the Sea Conference should not be reopened. In this respect it needs to be borne in mind that the conclusions of the Conference were regarded as a package, individual States prevailing in some areas but having to compromise on others.    


We note with satisfaction that the three institutions established under the Law of the Sea Convention are functioning well. The International Seabed Authority is actively preparing for future exploitation of mineral resources in the international seabed area. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has already adjudicated a number of disputes in this field. It is clear, however, that the jurisdictional powers of the Tribunal have not yet been exhausted and we welcome the initiative of the Tribunal to promote knowledge of its various procedures. One example of this initiative is the organisation of a round table discussion, here at the United Nations, tomorrow, Tuesday, 29 November, on the topic “Advisory proceedings before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea”.


We are pleased to note the progress in the work of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The Commission is currently giving consideration to three new submissions that have been made regarding the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, and a number of coastal States, including Iceland, have advised of their intention to make submissions in the near future. We welcome the steps taken by the Secretariat to improve the facilities for the use by the Commission and urge the Secretary-General to take all necessary actions to ensure that the Commission can fulfil the functions entrusted to it under the Convention in light of its rapidly increasing workload. We furthermore encourage States to make additional contributions to the two voluntary continental shelf trust funds established by resolution 55/7.


The UN Fish Stocks Agreement is of paramount importance, as it strengthens considerably the framework for conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks by regional fisheries management organizations. The provisions of the Agreement strengthen in many ways the relevant provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention and some of the provisions represent development of international law in this area. We welcome the encouragement in the draft fisheries resolution to States to recognize, as appropriate, that the general principles of the Agreement should also apply to discrete fish stocks in the high seas.


We look forward to taking part in the fifth round of informal consultations of States Parties to the Agreement in March and in the review conference in May, the role of which is to assess the effectiveness of the Agreement in securing the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. In the view of Iceland, the effectiveness of the Agreement depends primarily on its wide ratification and implementation. We welcome ratifications of the Agreement this year by Belize, Kiribati, Guinea and Liberia, bringing the number of States Parties up to 56, and urge those States, in particular fishing States, that still have not ratified the Agreement to do so as soon as possible. With respect to the implementation of the Agreement, we encourage States to make additional contributions to the Assistance Fund under Part VII of the Agreement.  In fact we encourage capacity building in developing countries in order to enable them to reap the benfits of fisheries within and beyond areas under their national juristiction.


The world community does not lack the tools to ensure the conservation and sustainable utilization of living marine resources. In addition to the Law of the Sea Convention and the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the Convention on Biological Diversity all exemplify such tools, providing States with the means to develop their fisheries management systems in a sustainable manner. While global instruments are often called for, we should bear in mind that the responsible management of living marine resources is best carried out at the local and regional level, in partnership with those who are closest to and depend on the resources for their livelihood.


It is the firm view of the Government of Iceland that the General Assembly, in its deliberations on the oceans and the law of the sea, should focus on specific issues that have global implications, and not on issues that fall within the purview of the sovereign rights of States or the responsibility of regional fisheries management organizations. The General Assembly should address issues that are global in nature and can only be solved through global cooperation. We should thus address, for example, marine pollution which respects no boundaries and must therefore be met with global action. Conservation and sustainable utilization of living marine resources is, on the other hand, a local and regional matter. We can, therefore, not accept opening the door for global micro-management of fisheries, which are subject to the sovereign rights of States or under the responsibility of regional fisheries management organizations.


In this light we were satisfied with the outcome of the thorough consultations on the fisheries resolution last year with respect to the impacts of fishing on vulnerable marine ecosystems. The relevant paragraphs of the resolution, which are reaffirmed in the draft fisheries resolution this year, recognize that it is for States and regional fisheries management organizations, as appropriate, to regulate fisheries and their impact on vulnerable marine ecosystems, and take decisions on any interim and long-term management measures. In case of regional fisheries management organizations without such competence, their members are called upon to expand their competence, where appropriate, and in case of high seas areas not covered by such organizations, relevant States are called upon to establish them, where necessary and appropriate.  


Iceland, as many other coastal States, has been applying area restrictions and closures as one of its fisheries management tools for many years. Icelandic authorities continue to work on protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems within its national jurisdiction. We are now in the process of closing five areas, that cover a total of 80 square kilometres, to fishing with gear which adversely affects the seabed, for the purpose of protecting vulnerable cold water corals. We are working on the basis of scientific information and address the issue of protection on a case-by-case basis. This approach ensures that we give proper protection to the areas that need to be protected while not disrupting responsible fishing practices in other areas.


As the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems is often presented as an issue where the fisheries sector and environmental protection clash, it should be pointed out that the approach followed in Iceland makes such a clash unnecessary. Rather than to impose blanket closures of vast areas, we work with the fisheries sector to determine what areas should be protected. In fact, consultations with the fisheries sector resulted in an increase in the size of the areas that are now being closed compared to the original proposals from our scientists.


Iceland is certainly not the only State that is protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems within its national jurisdiction. This is being done by many States all over the world. But this work is not only being carried out at the national level. Regional fisheries management organizations are also addressing this important issue.


Last year, Iceland took part in establishing an interim measure for the protection of vulnerable deep-water habitats in the high seas of the North Atlantic Ocean. The North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, NEAFC, agreed on an interim prohibition of fishing with gear which adversely affects the seabed on a number of seamounts and in a section of the Reykjanes Ridge for a three-year period. During this interim period, NEAFC will assess its work on this issue, seek further scientific advice and assess possible enforcement issues that may arise, with the aim of having appropriate conservation and management measures in place by 2008. NEAFC has shown its commitment to take the necessary action to protect vulnerable habitats on case-by-case and scientific bases.  


At the recent Annual Meeting of NEAFC, a proposal by Iceland to develop criteria and procedures within the Commission for the protection of vulnerable areas, including area closures for certain types of fisheries, was approved. The Annual Meeting furthermore recommended that a performance review of NEAFC be established. The purpose of such review is to provide for a systematic check of performance of the Commission and its consistency with the NEAFC Convention, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and other relevant international instruments. Assessment criteria and procedures for the performance review, including terms of reference for the review, will be developed, if appropriate in consultation with FAO and other regional fisheries management organizations. This regional approach is in accordance with the draft fisheries resolution which encourages States, through their participation in regional fisheries management organizations, to initiate processes for their performance review.


We regard the meeting in February of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction as very important. In our view, a major role of the meeting is to provide the General Assembly with an overview of the various issues falling under its broad scope, described in omnibus resolution 59/24. This is particularly relevant in light of the fact that many intergovernmental organizations and bodies are involved in work on these issues, resulting in some overlap. We look forward to a substantive, well-informed and non-polemical discussion in February.


At its 57th Session, the General Assembly decided to continue for three years the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea. We would like to thank the Co-Chairmen of this period, Mr. Philip D. Burgess of Australia, Mr. Felipe H. Paolillo of Uruguay and Mr. Cristián Maquieira of Chile, for their valuable contribution to the work of the Consultative Process. We welcome the continuation of the Process for the next three years on the same informal basis, but note the need to strengthen and improve the efficiency of the Consultative Process, as recognized in the draft omnibus resolution. In our view, the meetings of the Consultative Process need to be restructured in order to have more focused discussions and give sufficient time for consultations on the elements to be suggested to the General Assembly. The preparatory meeting for the 7th meeting of the Consultative Process provides a good opportunity in this respect.


During recent discussions on oceans issues, much attention has been devoted to integrative approaches, including an ecosystem approach to the management of the marine environment. Iceland fully subscribes to such an approach, forming the basis of our own marine strategy, issued last year. Let me also take this opportunity to note in this context the European Marine Strategy, adopted by the European Commission last month, which represents a significant contribution to our joint efforts to ensure the sustainable use of the world´s oceans. The General Assembly recommends in its draft omnibus resolution that the Consultative Process should, at its next meeting, focus its discussons on the topic “Ecosystem approaches and oceans”. We look forward to a constructive and informative discussion on the application of ecosystem approaches in June.


Iceland has actively encouraged an open discussion on marine pollution, an issue of international concern. It has long been recognized that one of the most serious and extensive threats to the health of the marine ecosystem is pollution from land-based sources.


As the implementation of the Global Programme of Action to Protect the Marine Environment from Land-based Sources has fallen short of expectations, national or regional plans should play a leading role in redressing this issue. Only a few countries have as yet adopted such plans, but a number of countries are in the final stages of adopting national action plans. However, more efforts are needed and Iceland strongly urges States that have not done so, be it at the national or regional level, to develop their own plans of action based on sound scientific advice.


Next year, the Second Intergovernmental Review of the Global Programme of Action will be held in Beijing. This will be a valuable opportunity to review the progress made,  address future challenges and set priorities for the next five years.


Efforts to strengthen international action to protect the oceans from land-based pollution and other man-made threats have been hampered by the lack of information, readily accessible to policy-makers, on the state of the marine environment. The lack of a comprehensive overview is arguably one of the main reasons why measures to protect the marine environment have not been focusing on real priority issues. The decision in omnibus resolution 57/141 to establish a regular process under the United Nations for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, including socio-economic aspects, which is based on article 200 of the Law of the Sea Convention, acknowledges that international action is needed to protect the marine environment from land-based pollution and other human activity that causes pollution or the physical degradation of the ocean.


Two years ago, in this forum, Iceland drew attention to the relevance of the Arctic marine environment. The warming of the Arctic and the growing demand for the natural resources of the region are leading to a rapid increase in navigation in areas previously considered inaccessible for commercial shipping. This trend calls, among other things, for a unified international approach to rights of navigation as well as cooperation on environmental issues, adaptation and emergency response.


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