The impact of the law of the sea convention on vessel-source pollution enforcement in the exclusive economic zone


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




The enforcement of vessel-source pollution, a problem of significant global dimensions, had been left entirely to flag-state competence outside the territorial seas. This was an unsatisfactory arrangement, since coastal states who were often most affected by such pollution had no means of enforcement, but had to resort to flag states who were often unwilling or even unable to do so. The Convention on the Law of the Sea provides, in addition, coastal and port-state enforcement and prescribes the use of the I MO standards as the basis of enforcement. Since the main burden of enforcement action should occur before the vessel commits a violation of pollution standards, much emphasis is still placed on flag-state enforcement under the Convention. It is this idea, and in particular, the right of pre-emption accorded flag-states that has raised doubts about the efficacy of the enforcement regime under the Convention. It has been said that the UNCLOS III scheme of enforcement is unlikely to be effective given the poor record of flag state enforcement in the past. A contrary view is presented in this study in relation to enforcement in the Exclusive Economic Zone. It is argued that the tripartite scheme of flag, port, and coastal - state enforcement contains sufficient checks and balances to ensure a viable and effective system of enforcement. Furthermore, states that ratify the Convention would have to ensure conformity of their legislation with the Convention's texts. This would lead to uniformity and consistency in national legislation, thus enhancing states' cooperation in the war against vessel-source pollution. To illustrate this point, the study examines Canadian vessel-source legislation in the light of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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