Seabed Council Approves Agreement of Cooperation, Completes Discussion on Three Agenda Items

News article image

JAMAICA, Kingston (13 July 2016) - - The Council of the International Seabed Authority meeting in Kingston this afternoon disposed of four agenda items and elected vice-presidents to serve the executive body in 2016, took note of a report on the periodic review of the implementation of plans of work for exploration for polymetallic nodules in the Area and a report on the status of national legislation for deep seabed mining and related matters. 

Also yesterday afternoon, the 36-member Council discussed matters relating to cooperation with other international organizations, approving agreement between the Authority and the International Hydrographic Organization and deliberated on issues associated with the conduct of marine scientific research in the exploration areas.

Two vice presidents, Uganda and France were also elected on behalf of the African and Western European and Others Group, respectively. The Council had elected India for the Asia and Pacific Group and Mexico for Latin America and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) at its opening meeting on Tuesday 12 July.

Periodic Review of Implementation of Plans of Work

The report (ISBA/22/C/7), introduced by the Secretary-General Nii Allotey Odunton, provided information on the status of periodic reviews of current exploration contracts in accordance with the relevant Regulations on Prospecting and Exploration for Polymetallic Nodules and Polymetallic Sulphides in the deep sea Area (Regulations 28 and 30 respectively) of the Authority. The two Regulations provided a mechanism for contractors to adjust their programme of activities at five-year intervals. 

The Secretary-General indicated that the 2016 review was undertaken in respect of two exploration contracts for polymetallic and one exploration contract for polymetallic sulphides. 

In accordance with the Regulations and the terms of the contracts, the Secretary-General initiated the review in March 2016 by inviting the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources of Germany and Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. to provide a detailed synthesis and analysis of all exploration work and environmental studies carried out during the previous five-year period. They were also invited to include in their reports a revised historical breakdown of reported actual and direct exploration expenditures in accordance with the recommendations for the guidance of contractors relating to such reporting issued by the Legal and Technical Commission in 2015 (ISBA/21/LTC/11), together with raw data previously collected and not yet supplied to the Authority. They were further invited to provide a proposed programme of activities for the next five-year period of the contract, together with a revised schedule of anticipated expenditures and a proposed training programme for the same period. The report said the Secretary-General would initiate a similar process with the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association following the current session. 

It also said that Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. and the Federal Institute responded to the request of the Secretary-General in April and May 2016, respectively, and submitted their proposed programmes of activities and schedules of anticipated expenditures for the coming five-year period. Those documents would be made available to the members of the Legal and Technical Commission for their review.

Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. also submitted an environmental inception report in relation to a proposed test of a nodule collector to seek an input from the Commission about the proposed scope and timings for it to meet relevant requirements about the submission of an environmental impact assessment. 

The report said the Secretary-General intended to respond to the contractors at an appropriate opportunity following the current session, including holding consultations with individual contractors where appropriate.

National laws and regulations on deep seabed mining

The Legal Counsel presented a report of the Secretary-General, which provided an update on laws, regulations and administrative measures adopted by sponsoring States and other members of the Authority on activities in the international deep seabed Area (ISBA/22/C/8). The report said that as at 30 May 2016, the following States had provided information on, or texts of, relevant national legislation: Belgium, China, Cook Islands, Cuba, Czech Republic, Fiji, France, Germany, Guyana, India, Japan, Mexico, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Niue, Oman, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United States (Observer) and Zambia. It added that a submission had also been received from the Pacific Community Secretariat on behalf of the Pacific islands region. Details of the legislative instruments are available on the Authority’s website (www.isa.org.jm/national-legislation-database). 

The report said that the Secretariat would continue to keep the online database updated and that a comprehensive study of the existing national legislation would be conducted with the receipt of more information and as resources permitted. 

Cooperation with other Organizations

The Council was invited ( ISBA/22/C/6) to approve a proposed Agreement of Cooperation between the Authority and the International Hydrographic Organization, an intergovernmental consultative and technical organization, established in 1921. The proposed agreement (contained in an annex to the document) followed the pattern of similar ones previously concluded with interested entities. It was submitted for consideration by the Council in accordance with article 169 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. 

The International Hydrographic Organization had an observer status with the Assembly of the Authority, and also enjoyed a similar status at the United Nations General Assembly, the International Maritime Organization and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 

The Organization was recognized as the competent international authority on hydrography and nautical charting. As a general rule, United Nations instruments referred to the Organization’s  standards, guidelines and doctrine on hydrography, nautical charting and associated activities, according to the Secretary-General’s note. 

The note recalled that one of the recommendations of a workshop on submarine cables and deep seabed mining, organized by the Authority in 2015, was that the International Hydrographic Organization should be contacted to consider with the Authority the interest and feasibility of charting exploration areas under contract, to show the presence of cables. 

The Secretary-General’s note said this was particularly relevant in the context of Goal 14 of the recently adopted United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and supported the long-standing aims of the Organization and the regime governing activities in the Area. (Goal 14 covers the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources).

Marine Scientific Research 

The Legal Counsel introduced the Secretary-General’s report (ISBA/22/C/3*) on the topic which stated that the security of tenure for contractors and the exercise of the rights and freedoms of marine scientific research were essential for good governance and administration of the mineral resources of the Area.  

The purpose of the report was to identify possible ways of responding to those issues in accordance with the relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It provided details of applicable rules of international law of the sea governing marine scientific research and the rules in part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The report noted that article 147 (1) required that activities in the deep sea Area be carried out with “reasonable regard” for others in the marine environment, while paragraph 3 of the same article contained a reciprocal provision which required that other activities in the marine environment be also conducted with “reasonable regard” for others in the Area. Paragraph 3 followed article 87 (2), which required that high seas freedoms be exercised  with “due regard” for rights under the Convention with respect to activities in the Area. 

It stated that marine scientific research activities in the Area must not unreasonably interfere with a contractor’s rights and duties under its contract with the Authority and that the two have to give due regard to the rights of each other without undue interference with activities of the other.

The report said that one way to avoid future disputes might be to further develop the exploration regulations to lay down specific rules for contractors and researchers. That might not be appropriate for what was essentially a need for the clarification of existing provisions, particularly the reciprocal obligation of “reasonable regard” of contractors and researchers regarding their activities in the Area, the report explained. 

It suggested that such a clarification could more appropriately be obtained by a request for an advisory opinion of the Seabed Disputes Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The report said the advisory opinion could be rendered at the request of the Assembly or the Council as provided for under article 191 of the Convention.

It added that the Chamber’s advice could contribute to the development of the future minerals exploitation regulations by the Authority, as well as to the development of guidance for researchers by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission through the Advisory Body of Experts on the Law of the Sea and provided a summary of the legal issues which required clarification and invited the Council to take appropriate action or make recommendations.  

Delegations agreed that the issue must be kept on the agenda of the Council as the discussions were preliminary in nature, with other priorities, including drafting of legislation, requiring attention.

The Council reconvenes Thursday afternoon, 14 July to discuss the Finance Committee’s report on financial and budgetary matters.