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What is ITLOS?

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) is an independent judicial body established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention. It maintains close links with the UN, which has granted it observer status in the General Assembly.

The Tribunal is composed of 21 independent members – a President, a Vice-President and 19 Judges – who are elected by the States Parties to the Convention. It is one of three bodies set up by the Convention, the other two being the International Seabed Authority and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The Tribunal was inaugurated in October 1996 in Hamburg, a German port city reputed for its long tradition in international shipping and maritime trade. Cases brought before the Tribunal have touched on issues such as the prompt release of vessels and crews under article 292 of the Convention; coastal State jurisdiction in its maritime zones; freedom of navigation; hot pursuit; marine environment; flags of convenience; and conservation of fish stocks.

UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which entered into force in 1994, governs all aspects of ocean space, including the delimitation of maritime boundaries, environmental regulations, scientific research, commerce and the settlement of international disputes involving marine issues. Often referred to as the ‘constitution of the seas,’ the Convention currently has 167 States Parties – 166 States and one international organization (European Community).

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