Letter: Britain dithers on law of the sea

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Britain dithers on law of the sea

Sir: In November 1994 the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea came into force. The Government in that year expressed its satisfaction with the agreement which had been negotiated to allow implementation of Part XI of the Convention, dealing with the deep sea bed minerals regime, and expressed its intention to accede. In answer to a written question from Lord Kennet on 20 June 1996, Baroness Chalker, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, confirmed that this is still the long-term aim but that, for scarcely explained reasons concerning the Rockall fisheries zone, HMG would not take a decision on accession in the timeframe necessary to secure voting rights for the UK in the Law of the Sea Tribunal; that is, by 30 June.

This convention, which formalises and consolidates maritime law and is the most important advance in the law of the sea during the second half of this century, has now been accepted by more than 100 governments including France and Germany, most other European countries, China and Japan. HMG's delay in accession means that no British voice will be heard in those important first meetings of the institutions set up under the convention.

Britain has always played a leading part in the development of the law of the sea, not least of this major convention; it is therefore bizarre that maritime interests should be jeopardised in this way. Nothing is to be gained by this delay, least of all for the Rockall fisheries, and much will be lost. We appeal most strongly for the necessary steps towards accession to be completed before Parliament rises in two weeks' time, in order to avoid a further three months' delay.

Professor NICHOLAS GASKELL

Dr RALPH BEDDARD

Professor CHRISTINE CHINKIN

MICHAEL RANKEN

Institute of Maritime Law

University of Southampton

Highfield, Hampshire

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