Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Public International Law

What is the Law of the Sea?

The law of the sea comprises the rules governing the use of the sea, including its resources and environment. The law of the sea is one of the principal subjects of international law and is a mixture of the treaty and established or emerging customary law. The law of the sea covers rights, freedoms and obligations in areas such as shipping, territorial seas and waters and the high seas,  fishing, wrecks and cultural heritage, protection of the marine environment and dispute settlement.

Source: Anthony Aust, Handbook of International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed 2010)

History of the Law of the Sea

The History of International Law - Law of the Sea collection on HEIN Online includes a set of full-text historic books and other publications on the Law of the Sea. 

Law of the Sea: Treaties & Key Documents 

The full text of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (1982) (UNCLOS) is available on the United Nations website (open access). The Convention also has its own website, which contains historical background information, implementing agreements, dispute settlement mechanisms and status of the Convention. 

Travaux Préparatoires for the Law of the Sea 1958 (First Conference), 1960 (Second Conference) and 1973-1982 (Third Conference) are available on the UN Diplomatic Conferences website (open access). The Travaux Préparatoires are official documents recording the negotiations, drafting, and discussions during the process of creating a treaty. These documents may be consulted and taken into consideration when interpreting treaties. 

The UN Audiovisual Library of International Law, Law of the Sea website lists the major treaties - each treaty page provides the full text of the treaties, travaux and related documents, information about the procedural history and useful introductory summaries (open access).

See also:

The law of the sea: official text of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea with annexes and index: final act of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea: introductory material on the convention and the conference (St. Martin's Press, 1983).

  • E-book available on HEIN Online (UniMelb staff & student access). 
  • Also available in print in the Law Library at KC 260 LAW

See also the following books on the Convention:

Cases / Settlement of Disputes 

UNCLOS provides for four alternative means for the settlement of disputes: the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the International Court of Justice, an arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VII to the Convention, and a special arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VIII to the Convention. States may choose one or more of these means by a written declaration to be made under article 287 of the Convention and deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. A table of declarations by States is available on the UN's Law of the Sea website.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) is an independent judicial body established by UNCLOS to adjudicate disputes and provide advisory opinions arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention. 

  • The ITLOS website (open access) contains information about the jurisdiction and work of the Tribunal. 
  • The ITLOS collection on HEIN Online (UniMelb staff & student access) includes texts, documents relating to the establishment of ITLOS, commentaries on the Convention and many other resources.
  • The following e-books provide detailed information about ITLOS:

Finding ITLOS Decisions

The first ITLOS case was The M/V "SAIGA" Case (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines v. Guinea) in 1997.

Full-Text Judgments and Advisory Opinions

The ITLOS website (open access) contains links to all advisory opinions and judgments in contentious cases - including all submissions, verbatim transcripts of oral arguments, orders, press releases, photos and videoed proceedings. 

These judgments and orders are reproduced in the series Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders ('ITLOS Reports'). ITLOS Reports should be used for citation purposes. ITLOS Report citations for all cases are available on the ITLOS website. ITLOS Reports are available on:


The Digest of Jurisprudence of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea includes summaries of cases, as well as excerpts from the Tribunal’s decisions arranged by topic. 

Pleadings, Submissions etc

Each Case and Advisory Opinion on The ITLOS website (open access) includes submissions, statements and other documents.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea - Pleadings, Minutes of Public Sittings and Documents / Mémoires, procès-verbaux des audiences publiques et documents are available on:

  • HEIN Online (UniMelb staff & student access) vols 1- 14 (1997-2007)
  • BRILL Online Books  (UniMelb staff & student access) vol 12 (2004) to current 

Law of the Sea - Online Encyclopaedias 

Oxford Public International Law (University of Melbourne staff and students access only) contains comprehensive and authoritative overviews of all aspects of international law. Entries are arranged alphabetically by topic under the broad subject of law of the sea

Recent print and E-Books in the Law Library on the Law of the Sea 

Print books on the law of the sea are on Level 5 in the Law Library at KC 260.

Journals & Yearbooks 

The best way to find scholarly articles on your Law of the Sea topic is to search databases that include hundreds of law journals and yearbooks. For a list of relevant databases, refer to How to find articles on international law on the Journals page in this Guide. 

Selected journals and yearbooks on the Law of the Sea held by the Law Library are listed below. 

Open Access Full-Text Articles 

The Judgment in the Ghana/Côte D'Ivoire Case was handed down on 23 September 2017. See:

Al Hajjaji, Shams Al Din Ahmed, 'Criminal Liability for Environmental Damage: National Courts versus the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea' (2017) 5(1) Groningen Journal of International Law Available on open access at SSRN.

Guilfoyle, Douglas, 'The South China Sea Award: How Should We Read the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea?' (October 19, 2017) Asian Journal of International Law (Forthcoming) Available on open access at SSRN.

International Organisations

UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea 
The Division serves as the secretariat of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The site provides access to the Convention and related agreements, General Assembly reports and other documents, information about dispute settlement and links to ocean-related materials. In this Division are two bodies established by the Convention - the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) and the International Seabed Authority, an autonomous international organisation that administers mineral resources in the Area.

UN Oceans was created to enhance cooperation and coordination among secretariats of the international organisations concerned with ocean-related activities. It is composed of the relevant programs, entities and specialized agencies of the UN system and the secretariats of the relevant international conventions, including the International Seabed Authority and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Inter-agency Activities page on the UN-Oceans website includes links to the Atlas of the Oceans and the International Coral Reef Initiative.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for improving maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships. It serves as the repository for treaties related to maritime safety, marine pollution, liability and compensation and other conventions dealing with shipping. Summaries of and ratification information about IMO conventions can be found at the IMO website.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO  provides member states of the United Nations with a mechanism for global cooperation in the study of the ocean, through the sharing of knowledge, information and technology and through the coordination of national programs. The site contains links to IOC activities in the areas of marine environmental protection; fisheries and ecosystems; climate change; ocean observing and monitoring; coastal area management; data and information management and disaster mitigation.

Research Guides

ASIL Electronic Resource Guide on the Law of the Sea by Barbara Bean.