Around the Icelandic foreign service

The oceans and the law of the sea

4 des. 2008

I would like at the outset to thank the Secretariat, in particular the able staff of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS), for its comprehensive reports on oceans and the law of the sea and on sustainable fisheries. I would also like to thank the two coordinators, Ambassador Henrique Rodrigues Valle of Brazil and Ms. Holly R. Koehler of the United States, for conducting the informal consultations on the draft resolutions before us, on oceans and the law of the sea and on sustainable fisheries.

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The Convention on the Law of the Sea provides the legal framework for all our deliberations on the oceans and the law of the sea. Iceland welcomes recent ratifications of the Convention by Congo and Liberia, bringing the total number of States Parties to 157, and signals of further ratifications in the near future. By ratifying and implementing the Convention, one of the greatest achievements in the history of the United Nations, the international community sustains and promotes a number of its most cherished goals. Every effort must be made to utilize existing instruments to the fullest before other options, including possible new implementation agreements under the Convention, are seriously considered.

The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is currently giving consideration to a number of submissions that have been made regarding the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, and a number of coastal States, including Iceland, are preparing their submissions.

As the time limit for making submissions approaches, the workload of the Commission is anticipated to increase considerably due to an increasing number of submissions, placing additional demands on its members and on DOALOS. We emphasize the need to ensure that the Commission can perform its functions efficiently and effectively and maintain its high level of quality and expertise.

Furthermore, we encourage States to make additional contributions to two voluntary trust funds in this field, i.e. the voluntary trust fund for the purpose of facilitating the preparation of submissions to the Commission by developing States, and the voluntary trust fund for the purpose of defraying the cost of participation of the members of the Commission from developing States in the meetings of the Commission.

We welcome the decision of the eighteenth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention, contained in SPLOS/183, which applies in particular to developing countries. According to the decision, the time period for making submissions to the Commission may be satisfied by submitting to the Secretary-General preliminary information indicative of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles and a description of the status of preparation and intended date of making a submission in accordance with the requirements of article 76 of the Convention and with the Rules of Procedure and the Scientific and Technical Guidelines of the Commission. Consequently, the time limit for making submissions to the Commission is now governed by article 4 of annex II to the Convention, the decision of the eleventh Meeting of States Parties contained in SPLOS/72, paragraph (a), the Rules of Procedure of the Commission, in particular paragraph 3 of annex I regarding partial submissions in case of disputed areas, and the aforementioned decision contained in SPLOS/183.

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The UN Fish Stocks Agreement is of paramount importance, as it strengthens considerably the framework for conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). The provisions of the Agreement not only strengthen in many ways the relevant provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention but also represent important development of international law in this area.

The effectiveness of the Agreement depends on its wide ratification and implementation. We welcome the recent ratifications of the Agreement by the Republic of Korea, Palau, Oman, Hungary and Slovakia, bringing the number of States Parties to 72. We look forward to the eighth round of informal consultations of States Parties to the Agreement, to be held in March next year, which will
consider, inter alia, promoting a wider participation in the Agreement through a continuing dialogue, in particular with developing States, and initial preparatory work for the resumption of the review conference in 2010.

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Iceland has emphasized the role of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in the field of fisheries. We welcome the adoption in Rome last August of the International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas, as requested in paragraph 89 of resolution 61/105. They include standards and criteria for use by States and regional fisheries management organizations in identifying vulnerable marine ecosystems in areas beyond national jurisdiction and the impacts of fishing on such ecosystems and establishing standards for the management of deep sea fisheries in order to facilitate the adoption and the implementation of conservation and management measures pursuant to paragraphs 83 and 86 of resolution 61/105. We encourage States and regional fisheries management organizations to implement these Guidelines to sustainably manage fish stocks and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, including seamounts, hydrothermal vents and cold water corals, from destructive fishing practices.

We further welcome the Intergovernmental Technical Consultation to develop a legally binding instrument on minimum standards for port State measures. The instrument will presumably be an important tool in combating IUU fishing. We look forward to finalizing an effective instrument in the resumed session of the Consultation, to be held in Rome from 26 to 30 January 2009, with a view to presenting it to the twenty-eighth session of the Committee on Fisheries in March 2009.

We encourage FAO to convene an expert consultation next year to develop criteria for assessing the performance of flag States, as well as to examine possible actions against vessels flying the flags of States not meeting such criteria, noting the preparatory work conducted by an expert workshop on flag State responsibilities held in Vancouver, Canada, in March this year. In our view, this is particularly relevant in strengthening and developing the legal basis for meaningful and effective measures against vessels engaged in IUU fishing on the high seas, where the flag State has failed to fulfil its obligations and take action.

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Finally, I would like to voice our concern over the fact that the informal consultations on the two resolutions this year were not held in the same spirit of cooperation that has characterized the work on oceans and the law of the sea here at the United Nations, including the Third Law of the Sea Conference. We regret, in particular, that certain member States were unwilling to renew the mandate of the Open-ended informal consultative process on oceans and the law of the sea for further three years, as has been the tradition, and to agree on a substantive topic for its tenth meeting next year. We hope this will prove to be exceptional and that the consultations next year will be held in the traditional spirit of cooperation.