MASS and the International Legal Framework – A Paradigm Shift or Old Wine in New Wineskins?

One of the issues discussed during the International Relations and Defence Committee of the House of Lords’ inquiry into the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC)[i] and whether, almost forty years after its conclusion, it remains ‘fit for purpose’, was the challenges the LOSC presents for the use of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) (the relevant sessions can be accessed here). Building and expanding on the evidence that I gave as an expert witness on this issue, this short blog post ponders the following question: does the use of MASS – and the connected disappearance of a master, officers, and crew from on board a ship – constitute a paradigm shift for the current international legal framework that requires making significant changes thereto, or are MASS merely old wine in new wineskins that can be accommodated with relative ease?

In a general sense, there is a correlation between the level of autonomy MASS are imbued with and the extent of difficulties they present for the existing international legal rules. These rules pertaining to MASS do not exclusively flow from the LOSC, but also from a number of international shipping conventions, including the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).[ii] Concerning those MASS where seafarers and the master remain on board, fewer challenges are presented by the current international legal framework. However, it is when MASS are controlled from an onshore remote-control centre, or that the operation of MASS is completely based on algorithms performed by a computer, that problems start to come to the fore from an international law of the sea perspective.

Some Issues Flowing from the International Legal Framework in its Current Form[iii]

Looking at the current debate in relation to MASS, it is widely recognised that some change must be made to the existing international legal framework in order to facilitate their operation at sea.[iv] In these debates, the main bone of contention is how extensive the overhaul of the existing international legal framework would need to be: is it more tinkering at the margins that is required, or is a more significant overhaul necessary? At the heart of this debate is the question whether this exercise can be confined to making the necessary amendments to the international shipping conventions that have been negotiated under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). For example, would amending those provisions contained in the IMO Conventions in existence today that presuppose an on-board presence – for example, Part 4 of Section A-VIII/2 of the International Convention on Standards of Training Certification and Watch 1978 (STCW Convention),[v] requiring watch to be kept by officers, both on the bridge and in the engine room – be enough? Or, rather, would updating IMO Conventions only resolve matters in part, because of the LOSC, which as exemplified by its context and the language of several of its provisions (e.g., Article 94 of the LOSC) operates on the assumption that a vessel has a master, officers and/or a crew on board?

As regards the LOSC, one issue is whether MASS can be brought within the scope of application of those parts dealing with international shipping. This has given rise to different views, which have ranged from that MASS do not fall under the scope of the LOSC, because of them not being ships/vessels,[vi] to that no difficulties would arise because they are ships/vessels.[vii] Other issues have arisen as well, including around Articles 92, 94, and 98 of the LOSC and the tension that is inevitably created because of these provisions referring to a master/officer/crew, and that flag States have certain obligations, which for their execution rely on an on board presence of persons as well. For example, Article 94(4)(b) of the LOSC prescribes that each flag State must ensure that its vessels have a (properly qualified) master and crew. Under this obligation, each flag State must not only make sure that its vessels have a (properly qualified) master on board, but officer(s) and (not ‘or’) crew as well.

Another issue is that MASS do raise difficulties for flag States in terms of them being able to effectively implement their flag State duties, as is, amongst others, envisaged pursuant to the genuine link requirement. In order for a State to grant its nationality to MASS, there has to be a genuine link pursuant to paragraph 1 of Article 91 of the LOSC. A genuine link is assumed to exist when a flag State has actual control over a ship.[viii] However, how can a flag State exercise control over a remote controller if they are, for example, not located in the territory of the flag State, but in a remote-control centre that is based in another State’s territory?[ix] The way offered out of this conundrum often is that the human controller onshore in a remote-control centre would have the role of the ‘master’. However, this argument is not without difficulties, one issue being that the LOSC speaks of a singular master. This will create difficulties if this requirement is transposed to one or more controllers that are located in an onshore remote-control facility, including in terms of labour standards.

Leaving this issue further aside, if it would be accepted that an onshore controller can be considered the ‘master’ for LOSC purposes, it seems that in order for the flag State to meet the threshold of it exercising its jurisdiction and control in an effective manner, more is required from the flag State in relation to MASS as compared to manned vessels flying its flag. Because flag States are responsible for MASS flying their flag and any legal issues arising, issues that might occur in the relation with the State on whose territory the onshore remote-control centre, and thus the controller, is based, will need to be regulated (this was discussed in one of the webinars organised by the National University of Singapore’s Centre for International Law (CIL) on MASS, see here). This includes that potential extradition arrangements between the States concerned would need to be in place in case something goes wrong.

The Way Forward

MASS challenge a preconceived understanding that a vessel carries a master and a crew on board. This was similarly the guiding thought on the mind of the drafters of the LOSC at the Third Law of the Sea Conference, which is exhibited by the LOSC’s content and language, creating difficulties for these provisions to be applied to MASS. Because of this, should the LOSC itself be reopened for renegotiation because of it being ‘unfit’ to address MASS specifically, as has occasionally been suggested?[x] The short answer is ‘no’. Sight must not be lost of that the LOSC is a framework convention, which recognises that for certain matters more specific law might be required. The road leading to the LOSC was long, only being agreed upon after close to two decades of negotiations between States. The final text that was produced is rather remarkable, especially against the background of various compromises having to be struck between various, at times, competing interests and views of States. Regarding MASS specifically, States are also unlikely to deem this topic sufficiently important to go through renegotiations of the LOSC, which may well amount to nothing. This is not an unlikely outcome considering that the 168 States being a party to the LOSC would have to be on the same page on how to deal with MASS. In this light, even if States would be willing to renegotiate the text of the LOSC for this purpose, there is no guarantee that it will lead to changes facilitating autonomous ship operations at sea.

But making changes to the existing international law to accommodate MASS can occur via different routes than amending the LOSC, which after entering into force in 1994 has not happened. These approaches are not new, having been used in the past in cases where it was felt that the LOSC could be improved upon to deal with specific subject matters. One such alternative approach, being similarly not without precedent, having been pursued in connection with straddling fish stocks and the Area, is to negotiate an Annex to the LOSC. The development of a de novo regime dealing with MASS provides a further option; a potential difficulty here is that it might be difficult to reach an agreement that is able to secure significant participation from the around 200 States existing today, which all have their own interests. It may also be that customary international law will come to bear out rules pertaining to MASS, although due to State practice being in its infancy, this option is less relevant at the moment.

As a further alternative, whereas amending the LOSC is notoriously difficult, and not desirable, this is less the case for the various IMO Conventions. In a general sense, a key role is played by the IMO in regard of the future regulation of MASS, as is also illustrated by Article 94(5) of the LOSC. Along these lines, more recently, the IMO, to be more specific its Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), completed a scoping exercise with regard to MASS (see here), focusing on the extent to which IMO Conventions related to the safety of navigation (e.g., SOLAS) need to be updated to ensure that MASS are able to comply with them. Other IMO bodies, including the Marine Environment Protection Committee, have not performed similar exercises for other relevant IMO Conventions yet; however, the Legal Committee has examined the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation in relation to the use of MASS.[xi] Of course, by following the IMO route any difficulties existing in these IMO Conventions pertaining to MASS specifically can be ironed out. Or, if deemed necessary, new instruments could be created. But there is a broader issue that may rear its head in this context, one which will only be signposted here: to what extent can the IMO remove all of the legal hurdles thrown up by the LOSC in relation to MASS? If the LOSC operates on the understanding that vessels must carry a master/officer(s)/crew on board, can the IMO introduce rules and standards which are at variance therewith, for example?

Some Concluding Thoughts on the Current State of Affairs

To return to the present and the issue of MASS and the international legal framework as it is: irrespective of the view held as to how extensively the international rules need to be updated to account for autonomous ship operations, MASS cannot comply with the existing international and generally accepted shipping rules and regulations as they currently stand. One corollary to this is that coastal States do have powers to act against MASS when they would be, for example, traversing through that coastal State’s territorial sea. Another effect is that, without the international legal framework providing provisions specifically tailored to MASS, or that its relevant provisions have not been updated to account for their modus operandi, flag States should think carefully about registering MASS. And particularly they should ask themselves the question whether they are in a position to adequately execute their flag State duties in relation to MASS. A more comprehensive set of international rules specifically tailored to MASS will surely take significant time to develop. Connected to this, it will be interesting to see whether the IMO, as it progresses with its work on MASS, will also consider the LOSC and the way in which it may impact its ability to comprehensively deal with MASS.


[i] United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (adopted 10 December 1982, entered into force 16 November 1994) 1833 UNTS 3 (LOSC).

[ii] International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (adopted 1 November 1974, entered into force 25 May 1980) 1184 UNTS 2 (SOLAS).

[iii] For a more comprehensive analysis of this issue see Y. van Logchem, ‘International Law of the Sea and Autonomous Cargo ‘Vessels’, in A. Tettenborn and B. Soyer (eds.), Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Shipping: Developing the International Legal Framework (Hart Publishing, 2021), pp. 25-62.

[iv] See e.g. N. Klein, D. Guilfoyle et al., ‘Maritime Autonomous Vehicles: New Frontiers in the Law of the Sea’ (2020) 69 International and Comparative Law Quarterly 719-734; A. Tettenborn and B. Soyer (eds.), Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Shipping: Developing the International Legal Framework (Hart Publishing, 2021).

[v] International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (adopted 7 July 1978, entered into force 28 April 1984) UKTS 50 Cmnd 9266, with amendments in 1995, which entered into force on 1 February 1997 (STCW Convention 78/95).

[vi] See e.g. M. Schmitt and D. Goddard, ‘International Law and the Military Use of Unmanned Maritime Systems’ (2016) 98 International Review of the Red Cross 577.

[vii] See e.g. J. Kraska, ‘The Law of Unmanned Naval Systems in War and Peace’ (2010) 5 The Journal of Ocean Technology 64.

[viii] See e.g. M /V Saiga (No 2) (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines v. Guinea) (Judgment) ITLOS Reports 1999, 10, pp. 41-42, paras. 81– 83.

[ix] A. Chircop, ‘Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships in International Law: New Challenges for the Regulation of International Navigation and Shipping’, in M. Nordquist et. al (eds.), Cooperation and Engagement in the Asia-Pacific Region (Brill/Nijhoff, 2020), pp. 24-25.  

[x] E. Van Hooydonk, ‘The Law of Unmanned Merchant Shipping – An Exploration’ (2014) 20 Journal of International Maritime Law 410.

[xi] United States of America, ‘Summary of Results of the LEG Regulatory Scoping Exercise for the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, 1988’, IMO Doc. LEG 107/8/5 (9 January 2020).

Greece Extends its Territorial Sea in the Ionian Sea to 12 nm: A Sign of Things to Come with Regard to the Aegean Sea?

Coastal State are entitled to claim a territorial sea, extending to a maximum of 12 nautical miles (nm) from the baselines of its land territories, be it from mainland territory or a high-tide feature. In the territorial sea, a coastal State has sovereignty, which extends to the air space above it and the seabed and subsoil beneath it.

Greece has not claimed full 12 nm territorial seas from all its mainland territory and islands. This used to be the case in both the Aegean Sea and the Ionian Sea, but Greece recently changed its position with regard to the latter, by making a decree in December 2020, whereby it extended its territorial sea in the Ionian Sea to 12 nm. In the decree, the Greek government also indicated that this approach may be extended to other areas, including the Aegean Sea.

Subsequent news reports have predicted that Greece taking an identical step concerning the Aegean Sea is in the cards. However, can the fact that Greece has changed its position with regard to the Ionian Sea be seen as a sign that a similar expansion of the Greek territorial sea to 12 nm in the Aegean Sea, is looming on the horizon? Answering this question is difficult, but the short answer is ‘not necessarily’. Especially considering the fact that, in the Aegean Sea, the issue of the breadth of the territorial sea has been a highly controversial matter.

The current state of play in the Aegean Sea, as far as the breadth of the territorial sea is concerned, is that Greece still follows the Turkish position to only claim a 6 nm territorial sea from any of its land territories. Greece has, however, never excluded the possibility of it claiming a territorial sea in the Aegean Sea in the future, which extends to a maximum of 12 nm. In fact, Greece has asserted on various occasions that international law entitles Greece to extend its territorial sea to this distance, and that it may take the necessary steps to make this a reality. Viewed in this light, the fact that Greece in its recent decree, whereby it extended the breath of its territorial sea in the Ionian Sea to 12 nm, also indicated to reserve the right to take a similar approach as regards the Aegean sea, is not a novelty, but rather a continuation of a previously and consistently held position.

However, if Greece were to proceed to claim a full 12 nm territorial sea in the Aegean Sea, such a unilateral move will undoubtedly provoke Turkey. Historically, whenever Greece has made any suggestions that it is entitled to a territorial sea of 12 nm in the Aegean Sea, this has been automatically followed by condemnations form Turkey, indicating that it would take whatever steps necessary to prevent Greece from making such an extension. In fact, Turkey has regarded Greece extending its territorial sea within the Aegean Sea beyond 6 nm as a casus belli. Turkey also takes the position that to claim full territorial sea entitlements within the geographical context of the Aegean Sea, which is rather congested, amounts to an abuse of rights by Greece, as it would lead to Turkey being inequitably affected by such an extension.

One aspect that may explain Turkey’s opposition to such an extension is that this would place approximately two third of the Aegean Sea under the sovereignty of Greece. There is also the issue of that Turkey never acceded to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, whereas Greece ratified the Convention in June 1995. This means that Turkey may not be directly bound by its Article 3, which deals with the breadth of the territorial sea, unless the provision therein reflects a customary rule. In this vein, the International Court of Justice in Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Columbia) made it clear that Article 3, and the breath of the territorial sea of 12 nm set out therein, have indeed evolved into a customary rule (para. 177, p. 690). There is a caveat, however: if Turkey would be able to demonstrate consistently objecting to this being a customary rule, at the time that it was in the process of obtaining such status, Turkey would not be bound by it once the rule obtains customary status. A potential difficulty in this regard is that Turkey itself claims 12 nm territorial seas in both the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

Whether Greece will claim a full 12 nm territorial sea in the Aegean Sea as well remains to be seen. However, due to the fundamentally different dynamics that are at play in the Aegean Sea, including its more complex geography, volatility, and the long history of conflict that exists between Greece and Turkey in relation to this area, an expansion of the Greek territorial sea to 12 nm there is perhaps not to be expected soon. Although Greece may have international law on its side on this point, this would increase and lead to further conflict with Turkey.  

Naming Disputed Maritime Features in the South China Sea – “What’s in a Name?”

China and Vietnam have a long history of incidents, because of them acting in relation to disputed parts of the South China Sea. A new chapter to this history was added at the beginning of May 2020, when Vietnam learned that China provided 80 maritime features, belonging to the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea, with Chinese names. Three decades earlier, in 1983, China embarked on a similar naming exercise of features in the South China Sea.

Looking at the history of incidents between China and Vietnam, it was not the first time an act of naming by one of the States created conflict between the two States. An incident also occurred after Vietnam proclaimed that the ‘South China Sea’ was henceforth to be named as the ‘West Philippine Sea’ in 2012, to which China protested heavily.

But what is the legal value of naming maritime features in the Spratly and Paracel islands by China, from an international law perspective?

Faced with the recent naming, Vietnam protested. Reportedly, it even contemplated to take the issue to international adjudication in order to be settled. Vietnam’s act of protesting is significant from the view of international law, however. This is because, by undertaking a unilateral act, a State, in this case China, may have sought to assert a right, or might have sought to create a new right. A lack of a response to a unilateral act might be construed as that a State has acquiesced in the other State’s claim. In a nutshell, acquiescence is inferred from silence or inaction in a situation that a State should have responded. Protesting against the other State’s unilateral conduct may therefore sometimes be necessary for a State to protect its claims. However, the need for producing a response is intertwined with the circumstances at hand, and not all acts actually demand a response.

International law does not address the issue of naming explicitly (see more generally on this issue E. Franckx, M. Benatar (et al.), ‘The Naming of Maritime Features Viewed from an International Law Perspective’, China Oceans Law Review (2010), pp. 1-40), raising the question of how to deal with this issue. A possible answer may lie in the fact that a State has sovereignty over its territory. The latter encompasses a State’s mainland territory, internal waters, territorial sea, archipelagic waters and high-tide features, as well as the air space above them. An implication of the sovereignty that a State has over its territory, coming down to that it enjoys full powers, would be that this also extends to the naming of maritime features that are located within its territory. By that same token, the name attributed by a State to a part of its territory would be opposable to other States. Of key importance in this regard is that this opposability would extend only to parts of what can be considered a State’s territory. But all this is premised, however, on that there is one State that has a clear title over a territory. This is problematic when applied to disputed parts of the South China Sea, to which multiple States lay claim.

The precise motive underlying the naming exercise by China is difficult to pinpoint, and various motivations have been suggested for what led China to embark thereon. One article has argued that the naming was a reaction to Vietnam being particularly active in relation to the South China Sea, considering Vietnam to have taken advantage of China’s attention having been on dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. Allusions were also made that, through this act, China sought to reassert its ‘sovereignty over the South China Sea’. This seems to imply that at least part of the reason lying behind the naming of the maritime features in the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, is that China perceives it as way to strengthen its sovereignty claim over them. A difficulty is, however, that some of these maritime features are submerged. The consequence of this is that they are thus not territory. At the same time, only territory has entitlements to maritime zones under the Law of the Sea.

Maritime features that are below water at high tide are called low-tide elevations (Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC)). A further consequence from that low-tide elevations are not territory, besides that they lack the ability to generate maritime zones of their own, is that there cannot be a sovereignty dispute between States over a low-tide elevation. This does not mean that they are not without relevance, however: if a low-tide elevation is located within 12 nautical miles (nm) from the baselines of a territory, it belongs to the State that has sovereignty over this nearby territory. Also, a low-tide elevation can be located within a disputed maritime area: that is, if the low-tide elevation is located within 12 nm from a disputed territory – for example, a disputed island.

A few of the recently named maritime features are high-tide features. When high-tide features are permanently above water and naturally formed, they are considered to be territory. This means that high-tide features may also be subjected to competing sovereignty claims by States. Under the LOSC, islands are divided into two categories: rocks under Article 121(3), and fully-entitled islands, as defined by Article 121(2). The main difference lies in the entitlements that they respectively have to maritime zones. Whereas rocks are only entitled to a territorial sea, not going beyond the maximum limit of 12 nm, and a contiguous zone of an additional 12 nm, fully-entitled islands are entitled to a territorial sea, a contiguous zone, an exclusive economic zone, and a continental shelf; and, if the requirements under Article 76 of the LOSC are met, also an extended continental shelf.

But what legal weight does the act of naming by a State carry in establishing ownership of a high-tide feature, or to indicate evidence of ownership? Put differently, does the act of naming lead to a State’s sovereignty claim being strengthened as a result?

Under international law, States that lay claim to the same land territory, which includes high-tide features, may seek to fortify their sovereignty claim through peaceful means. However, a State’s claim will not be further fortified once the critical date has passed. Although it may be difficult to pin down its exact moment in time, the critical date refers to the date when the sovereignty dispute between the States concerned has crystallised.

As to the question which State has sovereignty over a land territory, in the absence of a relevant treaty, the main issue is which State has a stronger title. International courts and tribunals, if they were to deal with a dispute of this type, will usually first identify the acts of peaceful administration that have been taken by States claiming the same piece of territory, to then weigh and compare these acts, to decide which of the States concerned has a stronger title over the land territory.

International case law in which the aspect of the naming of maritime features played a more substantial role is limited. However, the case of Minquiers and Ecrehos, which was dealt with by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1953, does shine some light on the relevance of naming. In this case, the fact that the United Kingdom (UK) did not name some of the islands that were in dispute, was used by France to argue that they were not within the control of the UK (Counter Memorial of France, pp. 382-383). Particularly relevant in this regard is that the ICJ noted that it “cannot draw any conclusion from the naming of the islands since this question must ultimately depend upon evidence which relates directly to the possession of these groups” (Minquiers and Ecrehos, p. 55). Here, the aspect of naming did not play a significant role for the ICJ in determining which of the States concerned had a stronger title over the islands, because it did not evidence possession of the islands.

In light of the above, it is essential to make a distinction between low-tide elevations and high-tide features, as a sovereignty dispute can only arise concerning the latter. Then, a State may seek fortify its sovereignty claim peacefully. Whether a claim will be strengthened is entwined with whether the critical date has passed, however. But in the context of establishing sovereignty over what can be considered high-tide features, their naming may be an act that actually carries little weight for an international court or tribunal, if it would be asked to deal with the matter.

Abandoning the myth that decisions rendered by international arbitral tribunals are not binding

Against the backdrop of China recently renaming several disputed insular features in the South China Sea, which led to protests from Vietnam, the suggestion has been raised that Vietnam might to turn to “the world arbitration court” to have the matter adjudicated. Although a court by that name does not exist, it may be inferred that reference is made here to an international court or tribunal. A myth rears its head in the same news article, one that has been perpetuated particularly after the Arbitral Tribunal established pursuant to Annex VII of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) rendered its award in the South China Sea Arbitration (The Republic of the Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China) in 2013. The myth being that “Arbitral rulings aren’t binding”. To reinforce this seriously flawed argument, the news article does indeed invoke the South China Arbitration.

After the Arbitral Tribunal delivered its decision on the merits in South China Sea Arbitration, some have used it to argue that this arbitral decision, and arbitral decisions in general, are not binding. Having declared under Article 298(1)(a) of the LOSC its non-acceptance of arbitration with respect to maritime boundary disputes or those involving historic titles, China argued that the Arbitral Tribunal could not consider the case on the merits. It also abstained from participating in the proceedings. After the Tribunal assumed that it had jurisdiction over the dispute, and went on to hand down its final decision on the merits, China reinforced its earlier expressed intentions that it would not follow the final outcome of the award.

However, from the fact that China did not recognise the validity of the Tribunal’s decision, the inference cannot be drawn that it is therefore not legally binding. To the contrary, Article 296(1) of the LOSC leaves no doubt in this regard: any decision rendered by a court or tribunal assuming jurisdiction over the dispute “shall be final and shall be complied with by all the parties to the dispute”. This is reinforced in Article 11 of Annex VII of the LOSC:  an “award shall be final and without appeal, unless the parties to the dispute have agreed in advance to an appellate procedure. It shall be complied with by the parties to the dispute”. In this light, rather than perpetuating this myth that decisions of international tribunals are not binding, the opposite, that is abandoning this rhetoric, is far more appropriate.

First Intergovernmental Standard on AI & Cyber Risk Management

In giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Cybersecurity in the UK Sir Mark Sedwill (Cabinet Secretary, Head of the UK Civil Service and UK National Security Advisor) asserted, “the law of the sea 200 years ago is not a bad parallel” for the “big international question” of cyberspace governance today (see Public Accounts Committee Oral evidence: Cyber Security in the UK, HC 1745 [1st April 2019] Q93).

In making this assertion Sir Mark may have had in mind articles such as Dr. Florian Egloff’s Cybersecurity and the Age of Privateering: A Historical Analogy in which the author asserted: 1. “Cyber actors are comparable to the actors of maritime warfare in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 2. The militarisation of cyberspace resembles the situation in the sixteenth century, when states transitioned from a reliance on privateers to dependence on professional navies. 3. As with privateering, the use of non-state actors by states in cyberspace has produced unintended harmful consequences; the emergence of a regime against privateering provides potentially fruitful lessons for international cooperation and the management of these consequences.”

In our IP Wales Guide on Cyber Defence we note: “Since 2004, a UN Group of Governmental Experts (UN GEE) has sought to expedite international norms and regulations to create confidence and security-building measures between member states in cyberspace. In a first major breakthrough, the GGE in 2013 agreed that international law and the UN Charter is applicable to state activity in cyberspace. Two years later, a consensus report outlined four voluntary peace time norms for state conduct in cyberspace: states should not interfere with each other’s critical infrastructure, should not target each other’s emergency services, should assist other states in the forensics of cyberattacks, and states are responsible for operations originating from within their territory.

The latest 2016-17 round of deliberations ended in the stalling of the UN GGE process as its members could not agree on draft paragraph 34, which details how exactly certain international law applies to a states’ use of information and communications technology. While the U.S.A. pushed for detailing international humanitarian law, the right of self-defence, and the law of state responsibility (including the countermeasures applying to cyber operations), other participants, like China and Russia, contended it was premature.”

Indeed China has gone further and condemned the U.S.A. for trying to apply double standards to the issue, in light of public disclosures of spying by their own National Security Agency (NSA).

Sir Mark went on to reveal that because cyberspace governance is being only partly addressed through the UN, “we are looking at coalitions of the willing, such as the OECD and some other countries that have similar systems to ours, to try to approach this.”

Evidence of this strategy in operation can be seen at Ministerial Council Meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-ordination and Development (OECD) on the 22nd May 2019 when 42 countries adopted five value-based principles on artificial intelligence (AI), including AI systems “must function in a robust, secure and safe way throughout their life cycles and potential risks should be continually assessed and managed.”

The recently created UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has sought to give substance to this principle through offering new guidance on cybersecurity design principles. These principles are divided into five categories, loosely aligned with the stages at which a cyberattack can be mitigated: 1. “Establishing the context. All the elements that compose a system should be determined, so the defensive measures will have no blind spots. 2. Making compromise difficult. An attacker can target only the parts of a system they can reach. Therefore, the system should be made as difficult to penetrate as possible. 3. Making disruption difficult. The system should be designed so that it is resilient to denial of service attacks and usage spikes. 4. Making compromise detection easier. The system should be designed so suspicious activity can be spotted as it happens and the necessary action taken. 5. Reducing the impact of compromise. If an attacker succeeds in gaining a foothold, they will then move to exploit the system. This should be made as difficult as possible.”

Alec Ross (Senior Advisor for Innovation to Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State) warns that, “small businesses cannot pay for the type of expensive cybersecurity protection that governments and major corporations can (afford)” A Ross, Industries of the Future (2016). It remains to be seen to what extent cybersecurity design principles will become a financial impediment to small business engaging with AI developments in the near future.

EU takes action against cyber-enabled ‘IP theft’ perpetrated from outside the EU

In the first EU measure of its type, Council Regulation (EU) 2019/796 concerning restrictive measures against cyberattacks threatening the Union or its Member States [17th May 2019] contains targeted sanctions against online “external threats” to IP. This Regulation is aimed at threats which originate from outside the EU, use infrastructure from outside the EU, or otherwise the person(s) instrumental in such a cyberattack are established abroad (Article 1).

Amongst other criteria, Article 2 of the Regulation targets an actual or attempted cyberattack on IP which has a, potentially, “significant effect”, on the “loss of commercially sensitive data”. Such commercially sensitive data will fall within the definition of a ‘trade secret’ under Council Directive (EU) 2016/943 on the protection of undisclosed know-how and business information (trade secrets) against their unlawful acquisition, use and disclosure [8 June 2016] if that data: 1. is secret in the sense that it is not, as a body or in the precise configuration and assembly of its components, generally known among or readily accessible to persons within the circles that normally deal with the kind of information in question; 2. has commercial value because it is secret; 3. has been subject to reasonable steps under the circumstances, by the person lawfully in control of the information, to keep it secret.

Article 3 of this new Regulation imposes an asset freeze on natural or legal persons, entities or bodies who are responsible for the actual or attempted cyberattack; provide financial, technical or material support for or are otherwise involved in the cyberattack; or are associated with the natural or legal person, or bodies involved. As a result of such an asset freeze, all funds and economic resources belonging to, or controlled by, such listed persons and that fall under EU jurisdiction (e.g. held by EU banks) will be frozen. In addition, no funds or economic resources may be made available to or for the benefit of the said listed person by parties falling under EU jurisdiction.

This latest EU Regulation should serve to remind us that the “big international question” of cyberspace governance still remains to be resolved, albeit Sir Mark Sedwill (Cabinet Secretary, Head of the UK Civil Service and UK National Security Advisor) would note that the major private sector providers are more receptive than ever to its resolution (see Public Accounts Committee Oral evidence: Cyber Security in the UK, HC 1745 [1st April 2019] Q93).

In his article Jurisdiction In Cyberspace: A Theory of International Spaces Darrel Menthe asserts that, “unless it is conceived of as an international space, cyberspace takes all of the traditional principles of conflicts-of-law and reduces them to absurdity.” Akin to the “law of the flag” on the high seas, nationality of a vessel (manned or unmanned) in outer space or the nationality of the base in Antarctica, Menthe advocates, even in the absence of such a sui generis treaty regime as regulates the other three international spaces, that jurisdictional analysis requires cyberspace should be treated as a fourth international space governed by a comparable set of default legal rules (see Darrel Menthe, Jurisdiction In Cyberspace: A Theory of International Spaces 4 MICH.TELECOMM.TECH.L.REV 69 (1998)).

The Norstar case at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Panama wins but awarded less than 1% of its claims.

 

In the Norstar case (Panama v Italy) on 10 April 2019, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea found that: Italy had violated article 87, paragraph 1, of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; article 87, paragraph 2, of UNCLOS was not applicable in the case; and that Italy did not violate article 300 of UNCLOS. The Tribunal awarded Panama compensation for the loss of the M/V “Norstar” in the amount of US$ 285,000 with interest.

The Norstar, a Panamanian-flagged vessel was engaged in supplying gasoil to mega yachts in the Mediterranean Sea. On 11 August 1998, the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Savona, Italy, issued a Decree of Seizure against the M/V “Norstar”, in the context of criminal proceedings instituted against eight individuals for alleged smuggling and tax evasion. At the request of Italy, the vessel was seized by Spanish authorities when anchored in the bay of Palma de Mallorca, Spain, in September 1998. The Tribunal found that art. 87 might be applicable as the bunkering activities of the M/V “Norstar” on the high seas in fact constituted not only an integral part, but also a central element, of the activities targeted by the Decree of Seizure and its execution.

The Tribunal noted that article 87 “proclaims that the high seas are open to all States” and that “save in exceptional cases, no State may exercise jurisdiction over a foreign ship on the high seas”. In this context, it observed that the “[f]reedom of navigation would be illusory if a ship … could be subject to the jurisdiction of other States on the high seas” Recalling its jurisprudence in  The Virginia G, the Tribunal then expressed the view that “bunkering on the high seas is part of the freedom of navigation to be exercised under the conditions laid down by the Convention and other rules of international law” and found that the bunkering of leisure boats carried out by the M/V “Norstar” on the high seas fell within the freedom of navigation under article 87.

In the view of the Tribunal, “if a State applies its criminal and customs laws to the high seas and criminalizes activities carried out by foreign ships thereon, it would constitute a breach of article 87 of the Convention, unless justified by the Convention or other international treaties” and “[t]his would be so, even if the State refrained from enforcing those laws on the high seas” adding that, “even when enforcement is carried out in internal waters, article 87 may still be applicable and be breached if a State extends its criminal and customs laws extraterritorially to activities of foreign ships on the high seas and criminalizes them” . The Tribunal concluded that Italy, through the Decree of Seizure by the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Savona against the M/V “Norstar”, the Request for its execution, and the arrest and detention of the vessel, had breached article 87(1) of UNCLOS.

The Tribunal found that art.87(2) which provides “These freedoms shall be exercised by all States with due regard for the interests of other States in their exercise of the freedom of the high seas,…” was not applicable in this case as it was Panama, not Italy, that was subject to the obligation of due regard. The Tribunal held that Italy had not violated art. 300 (Good Faith and Abuse of Rights). Article 300 cannot be invoked on its own and a State Party claiming a breach of article 300 must, inter alia, “establish a link between its claim under article 300 and ‘the obligations assumed under this Convention’ or ‘the rights, jurisdiction and freedoms recognized in this Convention’.

The Tribunal turned to reparation and held that Panama was entitled to compensation for damage suffered by it as well as for damage or other loss suffered by the M/V “Norstar”, including all persons involved or interested in its operation and emphasized the requirement of a causal link between the wrongful act committed and damage suffered.  The causal link between the wrongful act of Italy and damage suffered by Panama was interrupted on 26 March 2003” – when the shipowner received an official communication from the Court of Savona that the vessel was unconditionally released from detention – and any damage that may have been sustained after 26 March 2003 was not directly caused by the arrest and detention of the M/V “Norstar”.

The Tribunal awarded US$ 285,000 as the value of the M/V “Norstar” together with interest This was less than 1% of the total claims put forward by Panama. The tribunal did not award compensation with regard to Panama’s other claims: loss of profits; continued payment of wages; payment due for fees and taxes; loss and damage to the charterer of the M/V “Norstar”; and material and non-material damage to natural persons.

Trump, the IMO and scrubbers

 

US President Trump’s plans last week for delaying the 0.5%  sulphur cap were defeated in the IMO who have introduced a supplementary measure about banning carriage of non compliant fuels unless the ship is fitted with scrubbers, to come into effect on 1 March 2020.

One method of ensuring compliance with the sulphur cap which comes into effect on 1 January 2020 would be the fitting of scrubber systems which though costly initially may prove more economical than the use of low sulphur diesel. Maersk has recently outlined its plans to go down the scrubber route, backtracking from its earlier position not to fit them to its fleet.

An article in todays ‘Guardian’ claims that the use of open-loop scrubbers which discharge wash water into the sea will simply transfer pollution from air to sea. Such discharges would have to comply with IMO regulations but there may still be a risk of some pollution involved. A 2015 study by UBA, a German environment agency, concluded that “wet scrubbers influence the marine environment through ph decrease, temperature increase, pollutant discharges and possibly through the use of active substances. Open scrubbers in particular have a greater environmental impact than closed or dry scrubbers due to their high water consumption and significantly larger amounts of generated washwater…The discharges of large amounts of washwater with partially persistent substances, lower ph and elevated temperature, however, are not compatible with the precautionary principles of [the EU’s] waste framework directive and Marine Strategy Framework Directive.”

The use of open-loop scrubbers is effectively banned in German and Belgian waters. However, the use of low sulphur diesel fuel in ports will contribute to other forms of air-borne pollution, such as from Nitrogen Dioxide emissions.

Sea here? What’s with the Caspian?

 

On August 12 2018 the five Caspian states- Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan – signed the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. The surface of the Caspian is treated as a sea and the five states are granted jurisdiction over 15 nautical miles of water from their coasts and fishing rights over an additional ten miles. However, allocation of the seabed and its mineral deposits is left to the five countries to agree on a bilateral basis. Pipelines along the seabed may be constructed, with the approval of the countries whose seabed they cross, subject to environmental conditions. The Convention forbids deployment of military vessels by non-Caspian countries in the waters of the Caspian.

 

Oil spill in EEZ. Rights of coastal state to instigate proceedings against offending vessel.

 

 

In The Bosphorus Queen Case C-15/17, ECLI:EU:C:2018:557, the CJEU has ruled on the interpretation of art. 220(6) of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS) in relation to the rights of a coastal state to initiate proceedings against a vessel arising out of pollution in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The vessel spilt oil on the edge of Finland’s EEZ and on its return through the Finnish EEZ it was detained and required to provide security to cover the amount of a possible fine for the spill. A fine of 17,112 Euros was subsequently imposed on the ground that the spill had caused  major damage to or a threat of major damage to Finland’s coastline or related interests, or to resources of its territorial sea or EEZ. In the event the oil spilt did not reach the coastline, caused no damage, and no counter-measures were taken.

The CJEU held:(1) The EU as a party to UNCLOS, had jurisdiction to interpret its provisions. UNCLOS had primacy over secondary EU legislation. The EU was not a party to the 1969 Intervention Convention but could take account of it as it formed part of the relevant rules for interpreting UNCLOS.

(2) The relevant EU legislation was art.7(2) of Directive 2005/35 which incorporated  into EU law the provisions of art.220(6) with almost identical wording, and had to be interpreted in accordance with art. 220(6).

(3) Article.220(6) provides: “ Where there is clear objective evidence that a vessel navigating in the [EEZ] or the territorial sea of a State has, in the [EEZ], committed a violation referred to in paragraph 3 resulting in a discharge causing major damage or threat of major damage to the coastline or related interests of the coastal State, or to any resources of its territorial sea or [EEZ], that State may, subject to section 7, provided that the evidence so warrants, institute proceedings, including detention of the vessel, in accordance with its laws.” Paragraph 3 of art.220 refers to “violations of applicable international rules and standards for the prevention, reduction and control of pollution from vessels or laws and regulations of that State conforming and giving effect to such rules and standards.”

The coastal state’s powers under paragraph 6 were subject to clear objective evidence both  of the commission of a violation under paragraph 3 and also of the consequences of that violation.

(4) The reference to ‘coastline or related interests’ in art. 220(6) and art 7(2) of Dir 2005/35 could be interpreted as having the same meaning as the definition of these terms in art II(4) of the 1969 Intervention Convention, bearing in mind UNCLOS also applied to non-living resources. ‘Resources’ referred to harvested species and living species associated with them or which depended on them.

(5) It was not necessary to take account of the concept of ‘significant pollution’ referred to in art. 220(5) when assessing the consequences of a violation under art. 220(6). In assessing the extent of damage caused or threatened to the resources or related interests of the coastal state account should be taken of, inter alia,

– the cumulative nature of the damage on several or all of those resources and related interests and the difference in sensitivity of the coastal State with regard to damage to its various resources and related interests;

–  the foreseeable harmful consequences of discharge on those resources and related interests, not only on the basis of the available scientific data, but also with regard to the nature of the harmful substance(s) contained in the discharge concerned and the volume, direction, speed and the period of time over which the oil spill spreads .

The specific geographical and ecological characteristics and sensitivity of the Baltic Sea area have an effect on the conditions of applicability of Article 220(6) would have an effect on this assessment.

(6) Although art 1(2) of Dir 2005/35 allowed Member States to impose more stringent measures, it did not allow them to impose more stringent measures in accordance with international law that those laid down in Article 7(2) which authorised coastal states to take measures equivalent in scope to those laid down in Art. 220(6).