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United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Last updated: 17/06/2014

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty, is the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which took place from 1973 through 1982.

The Law of the Sea Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources. The Convention concluded in 1982 replaced four 1958 treaties.

UNCLOS came into force in 1994, a year after Guyana became the 60th state to sign the treaty. To date 160 countries and the European Union have joined in the Convention.

While the Secretary General of the United Nations receives instruments of ratification and accession and the UN provides support for meetings of states party to the Convention, the UN has no direct operational role in the implementation of the Convention. There is, however, a role played by organizations such as the International Maritime Organization, the International Whaling Commission, and the International Seabed Authority (the latter being established by the UN Convention).

The key provisions of UNCLOS:

  • Setting Limits
  • Navigation
  • Exclusive Economic Zone
  • Continental Shelf
  • Deep Seabed Mining
  • The Exploitation Regime
  • Technological Prospects
  • The Question of Universal Participation in the Convention
  • Pioneer Investors
  • Protection of the Marine Environment
  • Marine Scientific Research
  • Settlement of Disputes