Competencies of the International Seabed Authority and the International Maritime Organization in the context of activities in the Area

International Seabed Authority
International Maritime Organization


This report studies the interface of competencies of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) with respect to activities in the international seabed area (the Area). The study is undertaken within the context of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982 the Part XI Implementation Agreement, 1994 and the Seabed Disputes Chamber’s Advisory Opinion on Responsibilities and Obligations of States with respect to Activities in the Area, 2011. The report has been prepared against the backdrop of the agreement on cooperation concluded between ISA and IMO in 2016.

Under UNCLOS, ISA is the competent international organization with respect to the regime of the Area and IMO is the competent international organization for international shipping and navigation. The report explains the mandates of ISA and IMO with respect to the regulation of seabed mining in the Area and international shipping. Shipping will provide a platform for mining and transportation of extracted minerals to markets. Several specific areas of interface are identified and discussed and include maritime safety (human safety and navigation safety), marine environment protection (operational vessel-source pollution, anti-fouling systems, ballast waters, dumping or disposal of wastes), seafarer training standards, accommodation of activities in the Area, and the development of responsibility and liability regimes. The report discusses relevant provisions of UNCLOS, the 1994 Agreement, mining exploration regulations and draft exploitation regulations in connection with pertinent international maritime conventions and codes. It sets out findings, identifies issues and flags issues that require further research.

The report concludes that the competencies of ISA and IMO with respect to the regulation of activities in the Area and the regulation of related shipping are highly complementary. The Advisory Opinion has helped identify the contours of seabed mining regulation. ISA exploration and draft exploitation regulations have benefitted from referential incorporation of maritime regulation as needed to enhance safety and pollution prevention. It is possible there could be occasional regulatory overlaps, despite the generally clear allocation of competencies by the instruments concerned and the Advisory Opinion. ISA and IMO have the agreement on cooperation as a useful framework to consult on a periodical basis and address overlaps on a case-by-case basis as needed.

IMO has a range of regulatory and area- based management tools developed for international shipping that could be useful to enhance the safety of seabed mining. Further, IMO has extensive regulatory experience that could be useful to ISA as it continues to develop new regimes, regulations and guidelines for seabed mining. These include guidelines for the assessment and disposal of wastes and civil liability and compensation schemes for pollution damage to the marine environment developed under various maritime law conventions.