Saturday, November 28, 2009

One possibility...

Manu discusses recent issues highlighted in the fight against piracy.

You should read it. Very very well thought out, which is why I link to one of his blogs. I have worked with more foreign-flagged ships in the past 3 months than in the entirety of my career prior, and since 99.9% of all ships in the world are registered and crewed outside the US, comments and opinions from operators on these vessels is essential to understanding the way things really are.

The US has arcane and awkward cabotage laws which keep guys like me working at a salary that is exorbitant by global standards... trade protectionism at its' finest, though it's worth noting that the IT guy in your office probably makes more money than any ship captain. Food for thought.

One comment that Manu made in the above article grabbed my attention:

As for the third element I promised to add, here it is: In my opinion, we must, along with placing security teams on board and a blockade of pirate haven ports, find watertight means of bringing captured pirates to justice. This is all up in the air now. Some are dumped to be prosecuted in Kenya; high profile (read Western) target hijacks result in any captured pirates being taken to those countries for trial. Some have been dumped on Yemen in the past. The coalition does not seem to be able to get its arms around jurisdictional and other such legal issues. These are thorny, we are told.

Just occasionally, I have the ability to actually use the education that I paid so dearly for; I see workable solutions to the problem highlighted above. Jurisdiction is still the principal hangup preventing prosecution of (and in its' paralysis, actively encouraging) piracy.

UNCLOS, the U.N. Convention on the Law Of the Sea, is a massive, toothless document that covers virtually every aspect of maritime commerce and management not covered specifically in other international treaties. It is a deeply flawed document that breezily deals with contentious issues and is bogged down with minutia, but it is a framework. And it is a framework in need of updating, strengthening, and focusing. Much of UNCLOS, which is often called the Law Of The Sea Treaty, focuses on emerging issues from 30 years ago which never really became emergent; such as the framework for regulation on area leases for the collection of manganese nodules from the Abyssal plain. Stuff that is out there, but still doesn't make the news, basically.

The US doesn't love UNCLOS, for good reason. If infringes upon self-management of areas that are proprietorially ours by common agreement- The EEZ, (Exclusive Economic Zone) the 200-mile resource fence, for example. The US lost hugely the first and only time we went to a third party for resolution of an economic dispute involving ocean territory. The Hague Line divides the EEZ of the US and Canada's Atlantic border. Settled in Den Hague, Netherlands, a dispute over the richest fishing grounds (and significant virgin oil deposits, ahem) in the world ended up with Canada receiving 75% of the grounds in dispute, with about 80% of the fishable territory.

So the US has a sore ass after the Hague Line settlement, and a reasonable fear of the loss of self-management of resources. Now, since the American Revolution was fought over the issue of self-management of resources, it would be logical to have little love for long-distance comanagement of non-common resources.

Now, since President Obama is still the subject of a global love-in over his apparent remarkable ability to talk about action without ever taking action, and since he has mentioned a desire to revisit UNCLOS and increase American participation, there is an unprecedented opportunity to add inclusive language in a 2010 addendum to the treaty which gives management of piracy to The Hague, for example, in cases where jurisdiction is unclear. The broad strokes which cover so much material and so little of import could actually serve some widespread use.
All that is necessary now is a little willpower, and a little penmanship. American distrust of handing off of some rights to the people we seceded from in times past must be overcome, and to do so would require extensive delineation of when and where such changes could be applied. Fear of inertia in this matter is a weighty issue. The incremental addition, (even on a purely theoretical level) of an international component of jurisprudence in the American legal paradigm will make talking heads spin and spew green bile. I have no idea if the will exists to even address such issues, let along overcome them, but strict limitations could be introduced in the name of protecting mariners. If such thoughts could be packaged in a 2-minute sound bite, public support might actually exist.


CaitlynA said...

Actually, the United States is one of the strongest supporters of the Law of the Sea Convention and has only failed to join becuase a small group of senators have user parliamentary procedure to block consideration. The Convention was completed under Pres. Reagan, who declined to join, but said that if 6 specific criteria regarding seabed minerals were met, then it would be supported by his administration. Renegotiation began under the first Pres. Bush and was completed under Clinton. Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama have all supported US accession to the COnvention. It has also been endorsed by every Chief of naval Operations since Adm. Haywood, by every living Commandant of the Coast Guard and even by President Reagan's secretary of state. It is also endorsed by the Chamber of Shipping of the US, the American petroleum Institute, the Chamber of Commerce and by all of the telecommunications companies that lay and maintain undersea cables.

The LOS Convention does not address the division of Antarctica - that is covered by a convention that long preceded the LOS Convention. It does, however, deal with the division of the Arctic seafloor in a way that is very beneficial to the United States, which is why the US joined Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia in a joint statement that the Law of the Sea will be the basis for management of the coastal state interests in the arctic. It is also a reason that Alaska's past three governors, its state legislature and all of its delegation to the US congress have endorsed the convention.

As to boundary disputes, the major one outstanding between the US and Canada is the determination of the boundary in the Beaufort Sea, but this will be resolved bilaterally as provided for in the LOS Convention. The US and Russia already have an agreement on the boundary in the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea that takes into account each nations special fisheries interests.

As to piracy, the Convention incorporates the laws that were part of the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas and provides the base upon which the IMO conventions on safety of life at sea and the suppression of unlawful acts against the safety of navigation were negotiated as well as the framework for the resolutions of the Security Council that allow legal intervention into the territorial sea of Somalia to suppress piracy and armed robbery at sea.

With regard to the sticking point of the 1982 convention, the seabed provisions were modified in 1994 to meet all of Reagan's criteria. Since then, 8 foreign and international consortia have been conducing exploration and development in their internationally recognized exclusive sites. By contrast, the American consortia lost their foreign partners and the consortia either dissolved or are stagnant with the US claims unrecognized and unused. Regaining the potential for developing strategic minerals of the deep ocean floor is another reason the executive branch supports joining the Convention.

Paul, Dammit! said...

Thanks Caitlyn. As I recall, UNCLOS gives members a forum to revisit the Antarctic treaty without necessitating a withdrawal. In all honesty, I never paid much attention to that part, as the Hague Line dispute was my principal interest. The small group of sentators you mentioned have truly been a mixed blessing. New England lost massively in the Hague Line dispute, and Canada managed to decimate the majority of George's Bank's resources in short order. This is not unlike giving the Amazon Basin to Argentina for clearcutting, IMHO.
I'd like to see the US fully invest in UNCLOS, and I believe that making it useful as a tool in fighting piracy may pressure the US to come into full agreement.