International Marine Pollution Law

International Marine law is essential in governing the natural resources from illegal acts of pollution that poses dangers to marine life and life, depending on the waters of oceans or seas. Law on exploitation and utilization of sea resources is also essential to avoid overexploitation and damage to these resources.

Whereas different countries may have different countries laws and standards on usage of sea resources and pollution, international marine Law would be necessary to ensure that there is harmony in the standards because countries not only share boundaries but also need have a collective responsibility on sea pollution and overexploitation of environmental resources that affect all life irrespective of the boundaries.

Some of the impacts of human pollution can be meditated upon. For example, the rising of the sea level as a result of global warming (which partly results from green gas emissions), and coastal habitats would be affected by water covering the lands adjacent to seas. In order to effectively solve such problems, an international collaboration between countries is necessary[1].

The Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which was largely drafted in the 1970s and completed in 1982, sought to replace the former UNCLOS I (1958) and II (1960). The latter two were believed to be inadequate[2]. The Law consists of a set of laws and regulations for controlling activities of the deep seas, including commercial and fishing activities, even on adjacent lands.

The Law seeks to guide the set of activities such as deep-sea mining on high seas beds and establishes a legal framework on who owns what extent as national waters. The set of laws on controlling pollution and other hazards to the marine environment and ensuring effective protection of human life considers rules endorsed by 36-member Council emanating from the states that have ratified UNCLOS[3].

In addition, the Law requires the states within the treaty to adopt regulations on marine pollution. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), the UNCLOS would require states to assess potential effects linked to marine environments and to take necessary measures to prevent, reduce and control pollution from any source[4].

Proper Law in this aspect needs to be assured because nations may seek to stop or interfere with the rights of others, citing clauses in the Law where flaws exist. An example is an attempt by New Zealand and Australia in 1999 to persuade the shutting down of Japan’s experimental southern bluefin tuna fishing program citing Articles 64 and 116-119 in the Law of the Sea Treaty, though was without success.

Areas including the Antarctic sea, Gulf of Aden, black sea, Red Sea, Baltic Sea are sensitive to oil and/or other types of pollution and a law that helps control, reduce and eliminate pollution in these and other areas can be necessary. The reasons as to why these areas are considered special include technical reasons relating to particular characteristics to their traffic or their oceanographical and ecological conditions[5].

The Law can be used to offer the conditions necessary for release of any amount of oil or oily water, such as the pollutants should not be emanating from cargo spaces or mixed with any kind of cargo residue, putting in place filtering equipment before discharge and that the oil content in the effluent should not exceed 15 ppm (parts per million).

Oil pollution may emanate from oil tankers, ships, equipment being used to exploit sea resources, monitoring equipment, equipment that is located adjacent to the sea, or any other equipment and vessels assessing the sea. In order to ensure that there are efficient control and reduction or elimination of pollution, the Law must avail details on the requirements of recording, monitoring, and control measures necessary to be put into place.

Proving the occurrence of oil pollution without monitoring is hard or impossible. In order to be able to control sea pollution, and efficient regulation is required in order to monitor the operations of vessels and carry out surveys where necessary.

he Law needs to require an efficient reporting system where companies operating ships on sea waters would be required to report on compliance based on established environmental standards and the steps undertaken to meet the standards.

Article 211 of the UNCLOS[6] describes actions that are necessary to control pollution from vessels and requires that states through a general diplomatic conference or competent international organizations establish rules and standards to prevent, reduce and control marine pollution, which includes oil pollution, from marine vessels.

The competent international organizations and the general diplomatic conference would champion the adoption of routing systems that would be perceived to reduce threats for accidents, which may lead to marine pollution, e.g., accidents leading to spills of oils into waters by ships or oil tankers.

The Article grants the coastal states the right to adopt laws that may help prevent, reduce, and control pollution from foreign vessels though not hamper passage of innocent vessels. Article 212 of the treaty requires that there be established global, regional rules, standards, and recommended practices and procedures to prevent reduce, and control pollution[7] from or through the atmosphere.

The adoption of regional regulations, standards, and procedures is important because countries coexist as relates to boundaries and may undertake political, commercial, or social activities in collaboration, touching the issues of sea and land pollution. Such a law offers all nations ground to negotiating and renegotiating a common deal without respect to the individual status of nations.

In this respect, fair laws can be adopted. The UNCLOS[8] also covers the solution of disputes between nations pertaining to the usage or exploitation of resources in the seawaters. The sharing of borders and sea waters may be witnessed, and as a result, undefined responsibility or rights to exploit resources or control activities in the sea may result in disputes.

In some cases, for example, countries seeking to transport oil or other fuels across some sea routes may deposit pollutants in the sea, resulting in disputes where the bordering authorities may be concerned. The international Law on marine pollution such as the UNCLOS initiative may help the nations agree on certain issues relating to pollution of the sea, where issues may be controversial or undefined.

An example is where the United Kingdom and Ireland were ordered by the ITLOS to enter into negotiations over Ireland’s attempt to have the UK abandon a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northern, eastern England arguing that it would contribute to pollution of the North Sea[9]

Article 194 also requires that states take measures to ensure that the activities they are responsible for do not result in pollution, damage to other states, and their environment. In addition, states must prevent the spread of pollution from areas under their jurisdiction to areas by other states.

Measures which are covered in the Article that could help prevent pollution include: measures which will deal with emergencies, ensure safety, prevent intentional or unintentional damages, the qualities of the equipment such as the design and construction, and measures of preventing accidents; measures of controlling pollution from installation and devices used in exploration or exploitation of natural resources of the seabed and subsoil (e.g. those which would be using oil to run).

These include measures to prevent accidents by or with these vessels, operation and manning of these devices, and their construction design and equipment; and release of pollutants from land-based sources for example through dumping and oil releases from equipment into the sea (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, n.d.).

This places the nations which are a party to the treaty, the obligations not only to ensure that the occurrence of spills is checked by use of appropriate equipment for transporting oil but also the need to ensure there are minimal chances of accidents occurring of the vessels they use.

The Law bars state to unjustifiably interfere with activities of other states in the exercise of their rights and pursuance of duties to conform to the agreements, while taking measures to prevent, control, or reduce pollution.

This Article also provides an avenue for protecting and preserving rare or fragile ecosystems and the habitats of those endangered species or marine life, which in part may be considered to happen because of oil sea pollution.

Article 195 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea requires that the countries do not transfer damage or hazards from one place to another, or transform them from one form into another. Article 196 prevents the use of technologies for marine equipment or the introduction of new species, which could lead to marine pollution.

This places the responsibility of controlling pollution by using efficient technologies onto the individual nations. In this respect, the UNCLOS may bar the use of certain technologies or vessels thought, for example, to emit large amounts of pollution into the sea and thus force the owners to invest in more efficient technologies.

The Law in Article 198 outlines the right of states to inform other affected states or competent international organizations, of any imminent danger they become aware of. In this aspect, the affected nations will jointly develop contingency measures to respond to pollution incidences in the marine environment, according to Article 199.

The states may jointly participate in the promotion of studies, undertaking programs of scientific research, and exchange information and data on marine pollution according to Article 200[10]. This is important because pollution effects may be discovered after a long time, and new and more efficient and effective methods of counteracting oil pollution may be necessary.

The undertaking of large sea research projects may require the collaboration of different nations because they may be costly. However, the Law needs to be clear on the patent and shared usage of these studies to avoid disputes. The states may carry out scientific research and marine projects aimed at controlling oil pollution through influential international organizations or through collaborations they agree upon.

The Law in Article 202 places the responsibility to states through international organization, for; training scientific and technical personnel in the developing nations; providing developing nations with facilities for research, monitoring and education, and advice on oil marine pollution; enhancing the capacity of the developing states to manufacture appropriate or required equipments; and facilitating participation of developing nations in relevant programs.

This part of Law is necessary because participation in the reduction, controlling and elimination of oil pollution may be hampered by lack of or influenced by the availability of funds that are necessary to invest in efficient technologies such as those utilized in the marine vessels, undertaking of projects aimed at evaluating, analyzing and reporting the effects of oil pollution in their national waters, and participating in practical steps to counter oil pollution.

In this respect, the provision of this Article needs is tuned with the aspects of allowing for equal bargaining power by the developing nations in the development of appropriate joint activities and programs that ensure avoidance, reduction, and control of oil pollution.

This will make sure that any type of assistance does not negatively influence the nations to group with others in supporting joint efforts that demote control, reduction, and elimination of oil pollution for the benefit of some states at the expense of others.

It is clear that oil pollution in the sea may occur as a result of more than one activity, and this need be covered by a law which is widely accepted by the majority of the nations in the world in order that the authority enforcing it has the influence to taking appropriate actions against the offender.

In order to be efficient, the Law must provide for liability for oil sea pollution under certain circumstances such as when a transporting ship is engaged in war, hostility, and seizure. In cases of these events, the marine pollution law would require that the country or individuals or entity participating in them be held accountable for the resulting damage and problems.

Such may include sanctions and punishment, which may help other nations develop necessary measures that would reduce oil pollution. Natural disasters or calamity, as well as irresistible problems and activities that lead to pollution, need be accompanied by requirements for responsibility for the occurring damage and compensation of the victims where necessary.

This is possible if the international marine law is clear on the extent and circumstances under which a country will take responsibility for uncontrollable incidences and natural disasters that lead to pollution, such as making sure they prevent the spreading of the danger and compensate the victims.

Excusable reasons for the occurrence of oil pollution may also include negligence on the part of the enforcing authority or the government or their own wrongful actions such as failure to maintain lights or the navigation aids in the event of transporting. In addition, the government may interfere with operations of individual ships transporting oil and lead to spilling or other damages as it engages in operations such as war with another nation.

The Law must provide the actual steps and actions to be taken at these incidents. The Law must be able to cover with foreseeable evil-intents of some countries to engage or destroy ships or vessels owned by other nations so as both may suffer loss. A leaf can be borrowed from the established agreement by the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage that was held in 1969.

The agreement indicates that the owner of the ship may be exonerated wholly or partially from the liability towards the other party because of the latter’s acts of omission with intent to cause damage[11]. Furthermore, the latter must be held accountable for his actions.

According to this agreement, the owner may be excluded of the liability towards the victim if he proves that the resulting incidences were from natural incidents, inevitable characteristics, and acts of war, hostilities, insurrection or civil wars, damage intentions by a third party, or government negligence or negligence by the concerned authority, and due to wrongful activities.

Objections have been raised against UNCLOS with concern to the United State’s sovereignty in terms of marine activities, and there is a need for continued improvements of the laws to make sure that joint activities against oil pollution are possible.

In addition to providing for the states to carry surveillance of the activities they engage in or permit, Article 204 of the UNCLOS provides that the states should observe, measure, evaluate and analyze by recognized scientific methods and the risks or effects of pollution of the marine environment.

This Law may be important in determining the causes of oil pollution, which is important for the application of efficient pollution control, reduction, and elimination methods based on evidence. In addition, the states are required through Article 205 of the UNCLOS[12] to publish reports pursuant to the aforementioned practice or avail such reports at the appropriate interval to competent international organizations, which in turn avails the reports to all states.

This would make sure that tracking of pollution country sources possible, which would make possible carrying out of joint measures by the affected parties and at the same time, may hold responsible each country to monitor and report on marine oil pollution.

Although the fight for oil pollution should not be compromised in order to accommodate the United States, there is a need to ensure that substantial efforts are made to gather influence for implementation of the Law on oil marine pollution.


[1] See Ridenour (2006)

[2] Ridenour (2006).

[3] Rabkin (2006).

[4] Ridenour (2006).

[5] Raunekk (2009).

[6] UNCLOS: United Nations Convention on the Law of the sea

[7] Ridenour (2006).

[8] United Nations Convention on the Law of the sea

[9] Ridenour (2006).

[10] United Nations Convention on the Law of the sea

[11] CIESIN-Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators

[12] UNCLOS: United Nations Convention on the Law of the sea


CIESIN. (n.d). (ENTRI).

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Donovan Carrie E.. (April 2, 2004). The Law of the Sea Treaty. The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C

Doug Bandow. (March 12, 2004). Sink the Law of the Sea Treaty. Cato Institute, Washington, D.C.

Edwin Meese III. (April 25, 2005). Reagan Would Still Oppose Law of the Sea Treaty. Human Events

International Maritime Organization. (IMO). (10 September 2008). Implications of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea for the International Maritime Organization.

Kissi Agyeberg. (2005). Theory in Search of Practice: The Right of Innocent Passage in the Territorial Sea. Cornell Law School, Ithaca, New York

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