Murkowski Pushes Anew for U.S. Senate to Ratify UNCLOS

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) logo. Image: United Nations.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is renewing her effort to win U.S. Senate passage of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which has long since been ratified by 168 nations and the European Union.

On Nov. 16, Murkowski, co-chair of the Arctic Caucus, introduced a resolution calling on the Senate to ratify UNCLOS. The document details the rights and responsibilities of countries regarding the oceans, including guidelines for businesses and the management of marine natural resources.

It also provides a legal framework to protect those rights while avoiding conflict. The resolution was previously introduced by Murkowski and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-HI, during the 116th and 117th Congresses.

“The longer we sit out, the longer the rest of the world will continue to set the agenda of maritime domain, from seabed mining to critical subsea infrastructure,” Murkowski said.  “Ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty will help us keep China’s illegal territorial advances at bay in the South China Sea and is also critical to our national interest in the maritime domain, especially as other Arctic nations look to define their rights to seabed areas beyond their existing exclusive economic zones.”

“It is time,” she added, “for America to not just join the world at the table, but to make sure we are helping to set the rules going forward.”

UNCLOS is a comprehensive legal framework that governs all uses of the planet’s oceans and seas, and their resources. The treaty, which also allows for further development of specific areas of the law of the sea, is the globally recognized framework for dealing with all matters relating to maritime law, governing areas including but not limited to environmental control, marine scientific research, economic and commercial activities and settlement of disputes relating to ocean matters.

UNCLOS was introduced for approval by many nations back on Dec. 10, 1982, and went into force on Nov. 16, 1994. While the United States signed UNCLOS on July 29, 1994, the U.S. Senate has not voted to ratify the treaty, despite much urging from environmental, scientific, labor and industry organizations.