Significant Issues and Developments for 2012


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International Maritime Organization Adopts Amendments to Three U.S. Traffic Separation Schemes (November 2012)

The International Maritime Organization's Maritime Safety Committee, at its 91st session (26-30 November 2012), adopted amendments to three existing traffic separation schemes off the West Coast of the United States. The amendments to the Santa Barbara Channel and Los Angeles/Long Beach Traffic Separation Schemes are expected to reduce the likelihood of ship strikes with blue, fin and humpback whales, while maintaining and improving maritime safety. The amendments to the San Francisco Traffic Separation Scheme are expected to reduce the risk of marine casualties; reduce the likelihood of ship strikes with cetaceans; and avoid interaction between fishing and commercial vessels.

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U.S. ratifies International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships (August 21, 2012)

On August 21, 2012, the United States ratified the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships (AFS Convention). The AFS Convention was adopted at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on October 5, 2001, and entered into force September 17, 2008. The United States signed the Convention on December 12, 2002, and the President transmitted it to the Senate for advice and consent on January 23, 2008. The Convention aims to control the adverse effects of anti-fouling systems that impact the marine environment. To mitigate these effects, the Convention bans the application or use of tributyltin (an anti-fouling agent used on the hulls of ships to prevent the growth of marine organisms), calls for its removal from existing anti-fouling systems by January 1, 2008, and establishes a detailed and science-based mechanism to consider future restrictions of harmful substances in anti-fouling systems. NOAA's Office of General Counsel, International Section, played a leadership role in the negotiation and development of the AFS Convention. As of June, 30, 2013, 65 countries representing 82.25 percent of the world's merchant shipping tonnage have ratified the Convention.

Additional Reference Information: Some of these links are to external sites.

United States Signs Pacific Cetaceans Memorandum of Understanding

On September 27, 2012, the United States became the 15th signatory to the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region (Pacific Cetaceans MOU). The Pacific Cetaceans MOU was negotiated under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), in collaboration with the Pacific Regional Environment Programme. The MOU serves as a framework for regional cooperation and its implementation is facilitated by the Whale and Dolphin Action Plan, adopted by signatories to the MOU.

Additional reference information: Some of these links are to external sites.

Australia and the United States Collaboration to Commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the World War II (WWII) Naval Battle of the Coral Sea (May 7, 2012)

On May 7, 2012, Australia’s Heritage Minister, Tony Burke, declared three U.S. warships that sunk during the WWII Battle of the Coral Sea — the USS Lexington, the USS Sims, and the USS Neosho — as protected under the historic preservation law of Australia. The Australian declaration recognizes that these shipwrecks are a tangible link to one of the most dramatic events in Australian and U.S. military history and to one of the most defining moments of WWII. The declaration was made possible in part through collaboration between Australia and the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program. This collaboration was accomplished pursuant to and consistent with the Memorandum of Understanding between the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program and the Heritage Section of Australia’s Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts as well as the United States-Australia Science and Technology Agreement. See also Friends across the Pacific: Shared WWII maritime heritage of Australia and the United States.

United States Signs Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fisheries Resources in the Pacific Ocean (May 2, 2012)

On May 2, 2012 the United States signed the Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fisheries Resources in the Pacific Ocean. Upon entry into force, the Convention will establish a new regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) for high seas areas of the north Pacific covering fisheries not otherwise covered by existing RFMOs. It complements the new south Pacific RFMO convention to which the United States became a signatory in 2011. Both conventions further U.S. conservation objectives, including protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems from bottom fishing.

Additional reference information: Some of these links are to external sites.

Legislation in the 112th Congress to protect the R.M.S. Titanic

The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service are working with Congress to protect R.M.S. Titanic from looting and unscientific salvage and to ensure adherence to the scientific rules for research, recovery or salvage that will help preserve R.M.S. Titanic for present and future generations.

April 15, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic on its maiden voyage. Shortly after the Titanic was discovered in 1985, Congress enacted the R.M.S. Titanic Maritime Memorial Act of 1986. The 1986 Act called on the Secretary of State to negotiate an international agreement to designate the Titanic as an international maritime memorial to those who lost their lives when she sank in 1912 and to encourage in those negotiations the development of guidelines for conducting research, exploration, and salvage of the Titanic. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Canada negotiated the "Agreement Concerning the Shipwrecked Vessel RMS Titanic," ratified by the U.K. in 2003 and signed by the U.S. in 2004 subject to the enactment of implementing legislation. Legislation providing the Executive branch authority to carry out the obligations of the Agreement is necessary for the U.S. to ratify it. The International Agreement will take effect after at least two countries ratify it.

On March 29, 2012, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) that would amend the 1986 Act to protect the Titanic and its wreck site and ensure planning and conduct of activities directed at the wreck are consistent with applicable law. According to Sen. Kerry, the R.M.S. Titanic Maritime Memorial Preservation Act of 2012 (S. 2279) would: (1) amend the 1986 Act by providing the Department of Commerce with the authority to protect the Titanic wreck site from salvage and intrusive research; (2) provide authority to monitor and enforce specific scientific rules to protect the public’s interest in the wreck site and collection; and (3) propose the establishment of a Titanic Advisory Council, modeled on advisory councils previously established under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

Representatives from NOAA, the Department of State, and the U.S. Coast Guard have met with staff from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to provide answers to questions and technical drafting assistance on a draft bill to implement the International Agreement.

For further information on NOAA’s role regarding the protection of the Titanic as a maritime memorial, please contact Ole Varmer by email or phone: (202) 482-1402.

Eleventh Circuit held that wreck of 18th century Spanish warship Mercedes and its cargo are immune from arrest under the law of salvage and finds (February 24, 2012).

On February 24, 2012, pursuant to court orders of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Spain took possession of 17 tons of coins estimated to be worth approximately $500 million that had been salvaged from the wrecksite of the 18th century Spanish warship Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes located off of Portugal’s continental shelf. In court, the salvors, a U.S. company named Odyssey Marine Exploration (OME), had claimed rights and ownership under the law of salvage and finds arguing that there was no evidence of a ship and that the salvaged coins were of unknown origin (and thus called their recovery efforts the "Black Swan project"). They also argued in the alternative that even if the recovered coins were from the the shipwreck of the Mercedes, most were privately owned and not entitled to the sovereign immunity enjoyed by the vessel as a government warship. The courts disagreed. In adecision on September 21, 2011, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision of December 22, 2009 that dismissed the in rem admiralty jurisdiction case of OME against the Mercedes. The Eleventh Circuit also upheld the lower court’s order that the OME return all property recovered from the Mercedes to Spain, including coins that may have been privately owned. The court held that the property from the Spanish warship was immune from arrest under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) (28 U.S.C. 1609), that the cargo and property on board the Mercedes were to be treated as part of the vessel, and that comity principles and the need to protect Spain’s sovereign interests favored returning the salvaged property to Spain.


Letter to the IMO Asking for Voluntary Measures to Preserve the R.M.S. Titanic Wreck Site (January, 2012)

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 14, 2012, is expected to bring an unprecedented amount of commercial shipping traffic to the wreck site. In addition to the numerous cruise ships scheduled to visit the area, several submersible expeditions have been announced that will dive to the wreck site. These activities, along with others that may disturb the wreck site, highlight the need for action to protect the site’s archeological integrity and ensure that it is treated as a maritime memorial to the 1,500 people who perished when the Titanic sank. NOAA, the National Park Service and the U.S. Coast Guard prepared a letter that U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Brian Salerno sent to to the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on January 25, 2012, requesting the issuance of a non-binding circular advising vessels to refrain from discharging any garbage, waste or effluent in a 10 square mile zone above the wreck. The letter also requests submersibles to avoid landing on the Titanic’s deck, to concentrate any dropweights on ascent in specific areas away from hull portions, and to refrain from placing plaques or other permanent memorials on the wreck (however well-intentioned). On January 31, 2012, the IMO issued a circular alerting member governments of the U.S. request and asking them to take action as appropriate in response (MEPC.1/Circ.779). NOAA in consultation and cooperation with its Federal agency partners will continue to work to protect and preserve the Titanic wrecksite as a maritime memorial. For further information please contact Ole Varmer of the NOAA General Council Office’s International Section by email or phone: (202) 482-1402.