Competence

I. Access to the Tribunal

States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

The Tribunal is open to States Parties to the Convention (Convention, article 291, paragraph 1; Statute of the Tribunal, article 20, paragraph 1). The entities referred to in article 305, paragraph 1(c) to (f), of the Convention may also become parties.

There are currently 166 States and other entities that are parties to the Convention (status of the Convention and the Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI of the Convention).

Declarations under article 287 of the Convention

The Convention provides for four alternative means for the settlement of disputes: the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Court of Justice, an arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VII to the Convention, and a special arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VIII to the Convention. A State Party is free to choose one or more of these means by a written declaration to be made under article 287 of the Convention and deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations (declarations made by States Parties under article 287).

Entities other than States Parties

The Tribunal is open to entities other than States Parties in any case expressly provided for in Part XI of the Convention or in any case submitted pursuant to any other agreement conferring jurisdiction on the Tribunal which is accepted by all the parties to that case (Convention, article 291; Statute, article 20, paragraph 2).

II. Jurisdiction of the Tribunal

Contentious Cases

(a) Jurisdiction over any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention

The Tribunal has jurisdiction over any dispute which is submitted to it in accordance with Part XV of the Convention concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention (Convention, article 288, paragraph 1; Statute, article 21) and the Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the Convention.

Limitations on and exceptions to applicability of the compulsory procedures entailing binding decisions (Convention, Part XV, section 2) are contained in articles 297 and 298 of the Convention (declarations made pursuant to article 298).

Any dispute belonging to the categories referred to in articles 297 and 298 of the Convention may, nevertheless, be submitted to the Tribunal if the parties to the dispute so agree.

(b) Jurisdiction over any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of other agreements

Under article 288, paragraph 2, of the Convention, the Tribunal has jurisdiction over any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of an international agreement related to the purposes of the Convention which is submitted to it in accordance with the agreement. Under article 21 of the Statute, the jurisdiction of the Tribunal includes all matters specifically provided for in any agreement, other than the Convention, which confers jurisdiction on the Tribunal.

Ten multilateral agreements have been concluded which confer jurisdiction on the Tribunal (relevant provisions of these agreements).

Pursuant to article 22 of the Statute, any disputes concerning the interpretation or application of a treaty or convention already in force and relating to the subject-matter covered by the Convention may, if all the Parties to such agreement so agree, be submitted to the Tribunal in accordance with the agreement.

(c) Jurisdiction of the Seabed Disputes Chamber

The Seabed Disputes Chamber has jurisdiction over disputes with respect to activities in the Area, as defined in article 1 of the Convention, falling within the categories referred to in article 187, subparagraphs (a) to (f), of the Convention. Parties to such disputes may be States Parties, the International Seabed Authority, the Enterprise, state enterprises and natural or juridical persons referred to in article 153, paragraph 2(b), of the Convention.

Disputes between States Parties concerning the interpretation or application of Part XI of the Convention and the Annexes relating thereto may be submitted to a special chamber of the Tribunal at the request of the parties, or to an ad hoc chamber of the Seabed Disputes Chamber at the request of any party (Convention, article 188, paragraph 1). Disputes concerning the interpretation or application of a contract referred to in article 187, subparagraph (c) (i), of the Convention are required to be submitted, at the request of a party, to binding commercial arbitration, unless the parties otherwise agree. However, a commercial arbitral tribunal has no jurisdiction to decide any question of interpretation of the Convention. When the dispute also involves a question of the interpretation of Part XI and the Annexes relating thereto, with respect to activities in the Area, that question shall be referred to the Seabed Disputes Chamber for a ruling (Convention, article 188, paragraph 2).

The Seabed Disputes Chamber has no jurisdiction with regard to the exercise by the International Seabed Authority of its discretionary powers and it has no competence to pronounce itself on the question of whether any rules, regulations and procedures of the International Seabed Authority are in conformity with the Convention or to declare them invalid (Convention, article 189).

(d) The Tribunal itself decides any question as to its jurisdiction

In the event of a dispute as to whether the Tribunal has jurisdiction, the matter shall be settled by decision of the Tribunal (Convention, article 288, paragraph 4; Rules of the Tribunal, article 58).

(e) Provisional measures

If a dispute has been duly submitted to the Tribunal and if the Tribunal considers that prima facie it has jurisdiction under Part XV or Part XI, section 5, of the Convention, the Tribunal may prescribe any provisional measures which it considers appropriate under the circumstances to preserve the respective rights of the parties to the dispute or to prevent serious harm to the marine environment, pending the final decision (Convention, article 290, paragraph 1; Statute, article 25, paragraph 1).

The Tribunal may also prescribe provisional measures in the case covered by article 290, paragraph 5, of the Convention. Under this provision, pending the constitution of an arbitral tribunal to which a dispute is being submitted and if, within two weeks from the date of a request for provisional measures, the parties do not agree to submit the request to another court or tribunal, the Tribunal may prescribe provisional measures if it considers that prima facie the arbitral tribunal to be constituted would have jurisdiction and that the urgency of the situation so requires.

(f) Prompt release of vessels and crews

The Tribunal has jurisdiction to entertain an application for the prompt release of a detained vessel or its crew in accordance with the provisions of article 292 of the Convention. This article provides that where the authorities of a State Party have detained a vessel flying the flag of another State Party and it is alleged that the detaining State has not complied with the provisions of the Convention for the prompt release of the vessel or its crew upon the posting of a reasonable bond or other financial security, the question of release from detention may be submitted to the Tribunal if, within 10 days from the time of detention, the parties have not agreed to submit it to another court or tribunal (Convention, article 292, paragraph 1). The application for release may be made only by or on behalf of the flag State of the vessel (Convention, article 292, paragraph 2).

Advisory Opinions

(a) Advisory opinions under the Convention

The Seabed Disputes Chamber has jurisdiction to give advisory opinions at the request of the Assembly or the Council of the International Seabed Authority (Convention, articles 159, paragraph 10, and 191).

(b) Advisory opinions on the basis of other international agreements

The Tribunal may also give an advisory opinion on a legal question if an international agreement related to the purposes of the Convention specifically provides for the submission to the Tribunal of a request for such an opinion (Rules, article 138, paragraph 1).