Significant Issues and Developments for 2017


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UN General Assembly Greenlights Negotiations of High Seas Biodiversity Agreement (December 24, 2017)

On December 24, 2017, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution to convene an intergovernmental conference (IGC) to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument, under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.   Under the resolution, the IGC is to consider the July 2017 recommendations of a UN preparatory committee on this matter, and the negotiations are to address marine genetic resources and questions on the sharing of benefits; area-based management tools, including marine protected areas; environmental impact assessments; and capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology. The resolution calls for four rounds of negotiations from late 2018 to early 2020. 

Conclusion of United Nations Preparatory Committee to Develop Recommendations on Elements of an International Legally Binding Instrument on Marine Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (July 2017)

A United Nations Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) tasked with making substantive recommendations to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on elements of a draft text of an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) met for its fourth and final two-week session in New York from July 10-21, 2017.  Established by UNGA Resolution 69/292, the PrepCom focused on five subjects: area-based management tools, such as marine protected areas; environmental impact assessments; sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources; capacity building and the transfer of marine technology; and cross-cutting issues.  While the PrepCom did not reach consensus on the elements contained in its report, it did reach consensus on two recommendations to the UNGA: (1) that the UNGA consider the elements with a view to the development of a draft text of an international legally binding instrument; and (2) that the UNGA take a decision as soon as possible on the convening of an intergovernmental conference to consider the recommendations of the PrepCom on the elements and to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument.

Additional information
Advance, unedited version of the Report of the Preparatory Committee (including Recommendations of the Preparatory Committee)

Inaugural Meeting of the Arctic Shipping Best Practices Information Forum (June 2017)

In February 2017 after more than a year of negotiations, the eight Arctic States working through the Arctic Council’s Working Group on the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) approved the establishment of the Arctic Shipping Best Practices Information Forum.  (The eight Arctic States are Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States.)  The Forum held its inaugural meeting on June 5-6, 2017, at Lloyd’s Register Office in London.  (Press Release)

The Forum’s purpose it to help raise awareness of and promote the effective implementation of the International Maritime Organization’s International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), a mandatory international framework which entered into force in January 2017 and that increases the safety of ship operations and mitigate the impact on the people and the vulnerable environment in Polar waters.

In addition to Arctic States, Permanent Participants and Observers, the Forum was attended by a wide spectrum of stakeholders with an interest in Arctic shipping.  Notably, industry has played a key role in shaping the Forum, with significant input from maritime organizations and insurers.

The Forum has established a web portal that is being populated with a wide range of high-quality information to support effective implementation of the Polar Code.

The Department of Commerce Appropriations Act, 2017 provides new authority to protect Titanic (May 2017)

On May 5, 2017, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (Public Law 115-31) was signed into law.  Section 113 of the Act provides:  “For fiscal year 2017 and each fiscal year thereafter, no person shall conduct any research, exploration, salvage, or other activity that would physically alter or disturb the wreck or wreck site of the RMS Titanic unless authorized by the Secretary of Commerce per the provisions of the Agreement Concerning the Shipwrecked Vessel RMS Titanic. The Secretary of Commerce shall take appropriate actions to carry out this section consistent with the Agreement.”  Under Article 4 of the Agreement, each party is to take  “appropriate actions” to enforce measures taken pursuant to the Agreement against it nationals and vessels flying its flag and to prohibit activities in its territory including its maritime ports, territorial sea, and offshore terminals, that are inconsistent with the Agreement. 

Cooperation between France and U.S. NOAA on Maritime Heritage (January, 2017)

On January 18-19, 2017, representatives from France and the United States (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of State, Department of Interior) held a meeting in Mount Vernon, Virginia to explore projects of joint interest on science and maritime heritage in support of the management of marine protected areas (MPAs). After two days of fruitful discussion, the participants jointly developed several action items for cooperation on science and maritime heritage under the existing Science and Technology Agreement and Memorandums of Agreement on Marine Protected Areas. A Declaration of Intent [English] [French] on cooperation on maritime heritage was also signed recognizing past cooperation on protecting maritime heritage of mutual interest such as CSS Alabama, La Belle, Le Griffon, Bonhomme Richard and Titanic.

 Last updated February 16, 2018