Benefits of joining the Law of the Sea Convention

These maritime treaties are the tools for implementing and enforcing the rights and obligations established by the Convention. And they directly benefit Americans every day. The sinking of the HMS Titanic nearly 100 years ago was the catalyst for accelerating international ship safety and navigation standards and greater maritime cooperation, reflected in many agreements developed through the IMO. Of course the recent Costa Concordia tragedy is a stark reminder that we must remain vigilant and continue to press for effective standards that are regularly enforced. We depend upon our allies working through the IMO to develop and enforce such standards under the principles of the Convention.

{mosads}We live in a maritime world, and we rely on the sea for commerce. The Convention is the international legal framework on usage of the oceans. We face a dynamic strategic environment, and preserving freedom of navigation on the sea and protecting U.S. maritime sovereignty remain key U.S. interests. Joining the Convention will lock in vital navigational rights that ensure the mobility of Coast Guard cutters, Navy warships, and other U.S. vessels and aircraft, and will protect America’s sovereign rights over offshore resources that the Coast Guard is charged with protecting on behalf of the American people.

The Coast Guard is responsible for enforcing the nation’s laws on the waters and vessels over which we have jurisdiction, and our reach is global. The Coast Guard stops an average of more than half a ton of cocaine each day far at sea and prevents it from entering the United States. Excessive territorial sea claims by other nations not only impact our mobility but can interfere with our drug interdiction and other law enforcement activities. The Convention’s 12-nautical mile territorial sea boundary secures vital boarding rights for the Coast Guard. The Convention also secures the important rights of approach and visit by Coast Guard cutters to determine a vessel’s nationality and provides the process for enforcing U.S. laws on the many stateless vessels that dominate the illicit smuggling of drugs and people into the country.

The Convention sets the overarching framework for cooperative law enforcement at sea, an important force multiplier for the Coast Guard. We rely on bilateral and multilateral international agreements and cooperation with partner nations to effectively interdict and combat threats to America, especially drug trafficking, migrant smuggling, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These agreements ensure expeditious boarding, search, enforcement, and prosecution decisions, enabling the Coast Guard to quickly counter the threat and then release on-scene personnel, cutters, and aircraft to continue operations across a vast ocean operating area. When diplomatic negotiations over where to bring and prosecute contraband and detainees are prolonged because the U.S. is not a party to the Convention, we keep our front line cutters and boarding teams sidelined from the battle. Joining the Convention better positions the United States to interpret and demand adherence to Convention provisions that ensure rapid disposition of cases, and better protect America’s maritime security.

The nation needs an azimuth check on the Law of the Sea Convention. I’m confident a thoughtful assessment will reaffirm that the Convention has been and remains a success for U.S. diplomacy that furthers U.S. national interests. It will provide the nation with the weather gage, and better enable the Coast Guard to protect Americans from the sea, protect Americans from threats delivered by sea, and protect the sea itself.  As Capt. Aubrey always said when confronted with almost impossible odds, “There’s not a moment to lose!”

Papp is the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.


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