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Public International Law (ARCHIVE): Law of the Sea

This guide will help you find resources for researching public international law.


Law of the Sea - Online Encyclopaedias & Handbooks

The Max Planck Encyclopedias of International Law (UniMelb staff and student access) contains authoritative overviews of law of the sea topics. Select Law of the Sea from the top 'Subject' heading. Entries are arranged alphabetically by topic under this broad subject. 

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. 

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. 

Asia-Pacific Journal of Ocean Law and Policy (vol 1, 2016+)

The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law (vol 1, 1986+) (vols 1-7 (1986-1992) entitled International Journal of Estuarine and Coastal Law)

Ocean Yearbook (vol 1 1978+)

Law of the Sea Bulletin  (no 1 1983+)

Other Research Guides

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 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)

Law of the Sea: Treaties & Key Documents

The primary treaty on the law of the sea is the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (1982) (UNCLOS). This treaty has its own website, which includes the full text Convention, historical background information, implementing agreements, dispute settlement mechanisms, and status of the Convention (including signature / ratification / accession / succession and declarations by country). 

The official text of the Convention is available on United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) Online (open access). This page includes the complete and authoritative list of signature / ratification / accession / succession and declarations by country. The AGLC compliant citation for thisnofficial version is United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, opened for signature 10 December 1982, 1833 UNTS 3, 1834 UNTS 3, 1835 UNTS 3 (entered into force 16 November 1994).

The 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 (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1155 UNTS 331, art 32). 

The UN Audiovisual Library of International Law, Law of the Sea website lists UNCLOS and two other major treaties: the 1958 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea, and the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, 1995.
- 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

For an annotated (article by article commentary) UNCLOS,  see the following multi-volume online book:

See also the following books on UNCLOS:

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.


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, 'Basic Texts and Other Documents' relating to the establishment of ITLOS and its procedural rules and Chambers Resolutions, and all cases - contentious cases and advisory proceedings. 
  • 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 Reports are available on:

  • HEIN Online (UniMelb staff & student access) vols 1 (1997) - 9 (2007)
  • BRILL Online Books (UniMelb staff & student access) vol 10 (2008) to current 

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 

Guide Author

This Research Guide is created and maintained by Robin Gardner, Law Research Service, Melbourne Law School. Please contact Robin at with corrections, suggestions or comments about the Guide.