Results of the Third Law of the Sea Conference 1974 to 1976

ID-77-37: Published: Jun 3, 1977. Publicly Released: Jun 3, 1977.

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GAO examined U.S. participation in the various sessions of the Third Law of the Sea Conference (1974-1976) and the status of the issues as they stood before the conference session scheduled for May 23, 1977. The intention of the conference was to reach agreement on a comprehensive treaty covering all the uses of the oceans. The most important issues were: the breadth of the territorial sea; "transit passage" through, under, and over international straits used for navigation; use and conservation of the living resources of the sea; coastal states' rights to the mineral resources of the Continental Shelf; exploitation of the minerals of the deep seabed; protection of the marine environment; marine scientific research; and a system for settling disputes arising from the interpretation and application of the treaty.

New U.S. proposals for an acceptable deep seabed mining regime were presented at the last conference session. They were to be considered during the intersessional period and could be the basis for discussion at the next session. The greatest degree of agreement was reached on the breadth of the territorial sea, transit passage of straits, and coastal resource rights in the economic zone. The high seas status of the economic zone remained unresolved. There was agreement on many of the environmental protection articles. However, the United States has encountered opposition to the right of a coastal state to set ship construction, design, equipment, and manning standards in the territorial sea. Agreement was not reached on requirements for permitting scientific research in the economic zone. Although there was general agreement on the need for a dispute-settlement mechanism in the treaty, there were differences of opinion on the details. Congress expressed its support of U.S. positions at the start of the conference. Since that time, however, these positions have been modified.

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