UNCLOS is an acronym for the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea. The convention is also sometimes referred to as the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted in 1982. It lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources.


The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS) of the Office of Legal Affairs of the United Nations serves as the secretariat of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.


  • UNCLOS as the currently prevailing law of the sea is binding completely.
  • Even as the name of the nautical law suggests a United Nations’ involvement, the UN does not have any major functional role in the working of UNCLOS.
  • There are 17 parts, 320 articles and nine annexes to UNCLOS.
  • The law of the sea provides for full money rights to nations for a 200-mile zone by their shoreline. The sea and oceanic bed extending this area is regarded to be an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and any country can use these waters for its economic utilisation.
  • IMO (International Maritime Organisation) plays a vital role in the operation of UNCLOS. Along with IMO, organisations like International Whaling Commission and the International Seabed Authority are vital parties in the functional areas of the nautical law
  • Even though it has 160 member parties, the US is a country that has still not sanctioned (ratified) the nautical law. The main reason for the US not approving the sea law arises mainly because of its disagreement about Part XI of UNCLOS.
  • Due to opposition from Republicans in the Senate, the US has not been able to accept and ratify the convention. The Republicans disagree with Part XI of UNCLOS, which lays down the equitable distribution of minerals found on the seabed.

Are the UNCLOS verdicts legally binding on states?

Yes, its decisions are binding on its member states. However, China does not honour the 2016 verdict on the South China Sea, and many countries complain about Chinese vessels in their waters.


The exclusive economic zone is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, subject to the specific legal regime established in this Part, under which the rights and jurisdiction of the coastal State and the rights and

The exclusive economic zone shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

In Exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has:

1. Sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and about other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds.

2. Jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention about: 

  • the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures.
  • marine scientific research.
  • the protection and preservation of the marine environment.
  • other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.


1. In the exclusive economic zone, all States enjoy the freedoms of navigation and overflight and of the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms, such as those associated with the operation of ships, aircraft and submarine cables and pipelines, and compatible with the other provisions of this Convention.

2. In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.


  • IMO was established in 1948 in Geneva, it was not enforced until 1959 at a meeting held in London, its headquarters.
  • UN specialized agency with responsibility for safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships.

 IMO is a part of UN and was created to oversee the maritime domain by bringing out rules, guidelines and regulations. It also brings out international treaties and other mechanisms for maritime safety. It discourages discriminatory practices in international trade.

  • IMO’s work supports UN SDGs. While ocean’s goal, SDG 14, is central to IMO, aspects of Organization’s work can be linked to all individual SDGs.
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