Tag Archives: freedom of high seas

How to Protect Marine Biodiversity in the Open Seas

deep blue sea

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on May 2015 (reissued on June 2015) aimed at drafting a legally binding international treaty for the conservation of marine biodiversity and to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction.The resolution was the result of more than nine years of negotiations by an Ad Hoc Informal Working Group, which first met in 2006.

If and when the treaty is adopted, it will be the first global treaty to include conservation measures such as marine protected areas and reserves, environmental impact assessments, access to marine genetic resources and benefit sharing, capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.

The High Seas Alliance (HSA), a coalition of some 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), played a significant role in pushing for negotiations on the proposed treaty and has been campaigning for this resolution since 2011…The General Assembly will decide by September of 2018 on the convening of an intergovernmental conference to finalise the text of the agreement and set a start date for the conference….

A new treaty would help to organise and coordinate conservation and management [in the high seas].  That includes the ability to create fully protected marine reserves that are closed off to harmful activities. Right now there is no way to arrange for such legally binding protections, she added….In a statement released Friday, the HSA said the resolution follows the Rio+20 conference in 2012 where Heads of State committed to address high seas protection.The conference came close to agreeing to a new treaty then, but was prevented from doing so by a few governments which have remained in opposition to a Treaty ever since.

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is recognised as the “constitution” for global ocean governance, has a broad scope and does not contain the detailed provisions necessary to address specific activities, nor does it establish a management mechanism and rules for biodiversity protection in the high seas.  Since the adoption of UNCLOS in 1982, there have been two subsequent implementing agreements to address gaps and other areas that were not sufficiently covered under UNCLOS, one related to seabed mining and the other related to straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, she added. This new agreement will be the third implementing agreement developed under UNCLOS….

The “high seas” is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) ‑ amounting to 64 percent of the ocean…

Excerpts from Thalif Deen, U.N. Takes First Step Towards Treaty to Curb Lawlessness in High Seas, IPS, June 19 2015

Blowing Up Poaching Fishing Boats

Airline

The tiny Pacific nation of Palau, fighting a rising tide of illegal fishing in its waters, has set fire to four boats of Vietnamese caught poaching sea cucumbers and other marine life in its waters. Palau’s president, Tommy Remengesau Jr., said..he hopes to turn most of the island nation’s territorial waters into a national marine sanctuary, banning commercial fishing and exports apart from limited areas to be used by domestic fishermen and tourists. “We wanted to send a very strong message. We will not tolerate any more these pirates who come and steal our resources,” Remengesau said in a phone interview with The Associated Press from Washington, D.C., where he was visiting.

The country created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, but until recently had only one patrol boat to help protect its great hammerheads, leopard sharks and more than 130 other species of shark and rays fighting extinction.

The four boats destroyed  were among 15 Palau authorities have caught fishing illegally in their waters since 2014  with loads of sharks and shark fins, lobsters, sea cucumbers and reef fish. Several of the boats that it seized, stripped of their fishing gear, are due to carry 77 crew members of the boats back to Vietnam.  Remengesau said that the stream of poachers showed that just stripping the rogue boats of their nets and confiscating their catches was not enough”I think it’s necessary to burn the boats,” he said.

Palau, about 600 miles miles east of the Philippines, is one of the world’s smallest countries, its 20,000 people scattered across a tropical archipelago of 250 islands that is considered a biodiversity hotspot. In 2012, its Rock Islands Southern Lagoon was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Driven by rising demand from China and elsewhere in Asia, overfishing threatens many species of fish. ..[A]bout a fifth of the global market for marine products caught and sold, or about $23.5 billion, is caught illegally.  Advances in telecommunications and vessel tracking technology have improved surveillance, but enforcing restrictions on unauthorized fishing is costly and difficult, especially given the many “pockets” of high seas in the area….From Palau to Japan is a vast expanse of seas that nobody controls and nobody owns, areas that serve as refuges for illegal fishing vessels.

One way to counter that tactic is to create a “geofence” using vessel identification systems that could trigger alerts when vessels cross into national waters.

Nearby Indonesia also is taking harsher action, recently blowing up and sinking 41 foreign fishing vessels from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, as a warning against poaching in the country’s waters.

In Hanoi, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh recently told reporters the government was seeking to protect the rights of the fishermen. He urged other governments to “render humanitarian treatment toward the Vietnamese fishing trawlers and fishermen on the basis of international law as well as humanitarian treatment toward fishermen who were in trouble at sea.”  While burning and sinking such ships seems drastic, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has backed such moves, ruling that countries can be held liable for not taking necessary measures to prevent illegal, unreported or unregulated, so-called IUU, fishing operations by their vessels in the waters of other countries.

In a report on IUU fishing last year, the Indonesia government outlined a slew of tactics used by poachers, including fake use of Indonesian flags on foreign vessels, forgery of documents and use of bogus fishing vessels using duplicate names and registration numbers of legitimate ships.

Excerpts from Elaine KurtenbachPalau burns Vietnamese boats caught fishing illegally, Associated Press, June 12, 2015

Legally Blank: floating armouries targeting pirates

Private security firms are storing their guns aboard floating armouries in international waters so ships that want armed anti-piracy guards can cut costs and circumvent laws limiting the import and export of weapons, industry officials say.  Companies and legal experts described the operation of the armouries as a “legal gray area” because few, if any, governments have laws governing the practice. Some security companies have simply not informed the governments of the flag their ship is flying, industry officials said.

Storing guns on boats offshore really took off as a business last year. Britain — where many of the operators are from — is investigating the legality of the practice, which has received little publicity outside of shipping industry circles.  Floating armouries have become a viable business in the wake of increased security practices by the maritime industry, which has struggled for years to combat attacks by Somali pirates. But those in the industry say the standards vary widely.  Governments and industry leaders “need to urgently address standards for floating armouries and get flag state approval,” said Nick Davis of the Maritime Guard Group. “Everything has got to be secured correctly, recorded, bonded, the correct locks, and so on. It’s not just a case of find a room, put some weapons in it and everybody chill out.Some floating armouries did not have proper storage for weapons, enough watchmen, or enough space for guards to sleep indoors, forcing them to sleep on deck, he said.  In the absence of applicable laws, he said, “companies are just being economical with the truth.”….

There are between 10 and 12 ships operating as floating armouries at any one time. About half a dozen are located in the Red Sea, three off Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates and a couple off the island nation of Madagascar, said Thomas Jakobsson of Sea Marshals Ltd.  “Many companies are too small to be able to comply with regulations. It costs a lot of money,” he said. His company only used floating armouries licensed by the Djibouti government and flew the flag of landlocked Mongolia, he said. He believed most of the rest were not operating legally, he said.

The increase in the use of floating armouries comes amid a rise in the number of shoot-outs between suspected pirates and private security companies. In February, two Italian marines shot and killed two Indian fishermen the Italians had mistaken for pirates. The investigation may set legal precedents for future shootings by armed ship guards.

A ship that uses a floating armoury will pick up weapons from it at the beginning of its travels through dangerous waters, then drop them off to another floating armoury at the end of the dangerous part of the voyage.

Companies use floating armouries because it’s cheaper for clients than having to take their ship into port to pick up escorts and because there are so many restrictions on bringing weapons into the region around Somalia. Several companies said Middle Eastern nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen were particularly sensitive about foreigners bringing in weapons since the start of political uprisings in the Arab Spring.

Lawyer Alan Cole, the head of the anti-piracy programme at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, also said taking arms into coastal nations can be a complex process.  Regulations vary from country to country. In the island nation of the Seychelles, police come onboard and lock the armoury, he said. In Mauritius, weapons must be taken off a ship as soon as it is docked and stored in the police lockup.  Regulations can change from day to day, becoming so fluid that ships may put out to sea with armed guards onboard only to find rules have changed once the ship has reached its destination. Egypt, Oman and Kenya all changed the rules regarding the transport of firearms within the past month, Davis said.

But in international waters, the only country with jurisdiction over a ship is the state whose flag the ship is flying. Many ships fly flags from countries like Liberia or Panama, where regulations can be relatively lax.  Even if companies are trying to comply with the law, part of the problem is that legislation has not kept pace with the rapid growth of the maritime private security industry, said Adjoa Anyimadu, a piracy expert at British think tank Chatham House.

“There’s lots of calls — particularly from the shipping industry — for there to be more regulation,” she said. Britain was working on it, she said.  Since February, all British companies and citizens working in maritime security — or providing services to British ships — have to abide by a new regulation governing firearms. The regulation does not contain any standards for floating armouries.

Piracy fighters use floating armouries, Associated Press, Mar. 22, 2012