Vietnam – a responsible party of UNCLOS Convention

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was adopted 30 years ago in Montego Bay, Jamaica, marking an enormous success of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea.

This Convention now became the primary instrument governing the conduct of States in their uses of the ocean. The adoption of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea met the desire and expectations of the international community for a fair international legal framework related all issues on the sea and ocean, including seabed and the subsoil of the submarine areas.

The process of negotiation of the UNCLOS took years to be completed with efforts of over 150 states and international organizations, including NGOs. To date, 164 States are party to the UNCLOS.

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Da Tay island of the Truong Sa archipelago

The UNCLOS is a constitutive multilateral treaty, setting out the rights and obligations of States and other international actors in different maritime areas and in relation to various uses of the ocean. Therefore, the Convention is accepted by such a large number of states, including land-locked ones.

The UNCLOS laid the foundation for the establishment of a new legal order for issues related to the sea and ocean. It comprehensively covers all sea-related areas, taking into account the interests of all states in the world, be they developed or developing, large or small, coastal or land-locked.

Since its entry into force on November 16, 1994, the UNCLOS has become an important legal basis for regulating maritime issues as well as an important legal instrument for settling and dealing with sea-related disputes. That is why the UNCLOS is considered as “A Constitution for the Oceans”.

Throughout its 30 years of existence, the UNCLOS has been applied in a rather effective manner in settling prolonged complex disputes, and helped avoid potential conflicts.

As a country with 3,260km of coastline, Vietnam’s interest in the sea is significant. Aware of the significance of the sea, Vietnam has actively participated in the process of UNCLOS negotiations and made considerable efforts in implementing the Convention. It always upholds the purposes and objectives of the UNCLOS.

1. Since the adoption of the UNCLOS, Vietnam has actively applied relevant provisions of general international law as well as international law of the sea to develop its legislative and regulatory acts relating to the sea. In conformity with the progressive trend of international maritime law, Vietnam has promulgated “Declaration on the Territorial Sea, Contiguous Zone, Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf” in 1977 establishing the Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical mile (nm), extending the rights of Vietnam to the sea, not just confined to the right to fishing rights, but also other sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

With this Declaration, Vietnam together with Kenya, Myanmar, Cuba, Yemen, Dominique, Guatemala, India, Pakistan, Mexico and Seychelles were the pioneering states in developing the concept of Exclusive Economic Zone, thus contributing to the development and consolidation of the practice of States, which later on became an important institution of the UNCLOS.

2. Vietnam has been actively and constructively participated in the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Right after the UNCLOS was adopted, Vietnam was among 107 states signing the Convention on April 30, 1982. The National Assembly of Vietnam has ratified the Convention on June 23, 1994, before the Convention entered into force.  Paragraph 1 of the Ratification Resolution made it clear that “the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, by ratifying the UNCLOS, expresses its determination to join the international community in the establishment of an equitable legal order and in the promotion of maritime development and cooperation”.

The Ratification Resolution of Vietnam reaffirmed the sovereignty of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam over its internal waters, territorial sea, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Contiguous Zone, Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf based on the provisions of the UNCLOS and principles of international law, and called on other countries to respect the above-mentioned rights of Vietnam.

The Resolution also reaffirmed Vietnam’s policy to settle disputes over territorial sovereignty and other disagreements related to the East Sea through peaceful negotiations in the spirit of equality, mutual understanding and respect, with due respect for international law, particularly the UNCLOS and respect for sovereign rights and jurisdiction of coastal states over its Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf in accordance with the principles of the UNCLOS.

3. Vietnam has applied provisions of the UNCLOS to step by step complete its legal system to create the legal framework for the management of the sea and maritime economic activities, to facilitate the process of international integration and to enhance cooperation with other countries for the maintenance and promotion of peace and stability in the region and the world.

On June 21, 2012, the National Assembly of Vietnam adopted the Vietnam Law of the Sea, which was developed on the basis of the provisions of the UNCLOS with references to international and state practice. The Vietnam Law of the Sea includes seven Chapters with 55 Articles, covering principles of management and use of the sea, scope and regime of internal waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone, continental shelf, regime of islands, archipelagos, activities in the Vietnamese sea areas, search and rescue, protection of marine resources and environment, marine scientific research, development of maritime economy, sea patrol and control and maritime international cooperation.

By adopting the law, Vietnam harmonizes its sea-related laws with the provisions of the UNCLOS. Vietnam’s policy to settle the sea and insular disputes through peaceful means on the basis of the international law and the UNCLOS is a clear statement that Vietnam is a responsible member of the international community, respects and complies with international law, including the UNCLOS, while also reflecting its resolve to strive for peace, stability, cooperation and development of the region and the world.

Before adopting the Law of the Sea, on June 14, 2005 the National Assembly of Vietnam adopted the Vietnamese Maritime Code, which entered into force on 1 January 2006, governing maritime navigation, entry and departure of Vietnamese seaports. In addition, Vietnam has adopted a number of other laws related to the management and use of the sea, such as the Petroleum Law (1993), Law on Water Resources (1998), Law on Environmental Protection (1993), Law on National Border (2003), Fishery Law (2004) and a number of Ordinances and Decrees.

4. Pursuant to the provisions of the UNCLOS, Vietnam has been conducting effectively the management of and implementing maritime economic activities in its Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf for the development of the national economy and improvement of people’s living conditions. The Vietnamese Government always provides sufficient protection of the lawful and legitimate rights and interests of foreign actors in economic cooperation, management and exploitation of maritime natural resources in conformity with the provisions of the UNCLOS. Vietnam has been proactively working with parties concerned in the protection of the marine environment, search and rescue at sea, natural disaster prevention and relief, and prevention and combating crimes at sea, particularly piracy, which contributes to the full implementation of the provisions of the UNCLOS.

Protection of natural resources and marine environment are always attached importance to by the Vietnamese Government and are provided for in provisions of relevant legal documents related to different areas of shipping, oil and gas, aqua farming and processing, sea control and patrol. Vietnam has proposed various initiatives on sustainable exploitation of natural resources of the sea and ocean, environment protection and response to sea level rise.

Vietnam is well aware of the obligation of search and rescue imposed on coastal states by the UNCLOS. The country established the National Committee on Search and Rescue by Decision No. 780/TTG dated 23 October 1996 of the Prime Minister. The Committee is responsible for instructing and implementing search and rescue activities for people and vehicles (airplanes, ships, oil and gas facilities etc.) in distress in the air, at sea and in the contiguous areas between Vietnam and other countries. Vietnam has become a member of the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue and will soon start negotiations with countries concerned on the division of the areas for search and rescue at sea.

5. On the basis of the consistent policy to settle through peaceful means sea-related disputes and disagreements, Vietnam has made significant efforts in effectively applying the UNCLOS to settle disputes related to maritime delimitation with neighbouring countries in accordance with the principle of equity in order to reach an acceptable solution.

Vietnam has signed: the Agreement with Thailand on Maritime Delimitation on August 9, 1997; the Agreement with China on the Delimitation of the Tonkin Gulf and on Fishery Cooperation on December 25, 2000, and the Agreement with Indonesia on the Delimitation of Continental Shelf on June 26, 2003.

Vietnam are currently involved in negotiations for delimitation of the area outside the mouth of Tonkin Gulf with China, negotiations for the delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zone with Indonesia and will conduct negotiations on sea-related issues with other neighbouring countries. Vietnam’s practice of negotiations and conclusions of several agreements on maritime delimitation with its neighbouring States represented the creative application of the provisions of the UNCLOS and helped enrich the international practice in maritime delimitation.

The results of negotiations for delimitation between Vietnam and Thailand and China helped reaffirm the undeniable trend of using the method of setting a medium line or equidistance line as the starting point for an equitable solution and the trend of using a single delimitation line for both Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf.

On the other hand, Vietnam has always made efforts to act in conformity with international law, including the UNCLOS.  In this spirit, in all discussions and exchanges of views on territorial and maritime disputes related to the East Sea, Vietnam firmly supports the principle of “respect for international law, including the UNCLOS”, which is viewed as a primary principle for settling and dealing with insular and maritime disputes. Vietnam has managed to incorporate this principle into the Documents of ASEAN, including the Declaration on the Conducts of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), Six-Point Principles on the East Sea on July 20, 2012.

With Vietnam’s efforts, the principle “on the basis of international law, UNCLOS to find a long-term, fundamental solution to disputes in the East Sea” has been incorporated into the Agreement on Basic Principles Guiding the Settlement of Maritime Issues between Vietnam and China signed on October 11, 2011. This testifies to the fact that Vietnam not only strictly observes the provisions of the UNCLOS but also promotes the respect for and full implementation of the contents of the Convention.

6. As recommended in Articles 74 and 83 of the UNCLOS, Vietnam is always prepared to conduct joint-development cooperation with relevant parties in the disputed areas in accordance with the provisions of the UNCLOS. In 1992, Vietnam signed with Malaysia the Memorandum of Understanding for the cooperation in exploration and exploitation of petroleum in a defined area of the continental shelf involving the two countries, which has been effectively implemented. Vietnam is currently engaged in negotiations with Thailand and Malaysia on cooperation in the Vietnam – Thailand – Malaysia Tripartite Overlapping Continental Shelf Claim Area.

7. Exercising the rights and obligations of coastal states under the UNCLOS, upon nearly 3 years of arduous efforts (from 2007 to 2009), Vietnam has completed a quality submission on the Continental Shelf beyond 200nm with scientific and legal evidences for delineating its extended continental shelf in accordance with the guidelines of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. In early May 2009, Vietnam submitted to the United Nations the Submission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf beyond 200nm in the Northern part of the East Sea and Joint Submission with Malaysia on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in the Southern part of the East Sea.

On August 27-28, 2009, Vietnam presented the two Submissions at the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and called for the Commission to promptly establish sub-commissions to consider the Submissions in accordance with the provisions of the UNCLOS as well as the Rules of Procedure of the Commission. These undertakings reaffirmed Vietnam’s determination to observe the UNCLOS.

8. Vietnam has been participating proactively in activities under the auspices of international bodies established by the UNCLOS. It is a member of the Council of the International Seabed Authority and was elected as Vice President of the Assembly of the International Seabed Authority. The country has participated in all Meetings of the State Parties to the UNCLOS held annually at the United Nations General Assembly and made positive contributions to promoting the effective implementation of the Convention. It has also participated in and made positive contribution to meetings of the International Seabed Authority highlighting the role of the UNCLOS.

Vietnam has supported the enhanced activities of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and the judicial function of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and has made annual financial contribution to foster the operation of bodies established under the Convention.

In the related forums, it has constantly stated that countries conducting maritime activities must strictly abide by and fully implement the provisions, rights and obligations enshrined in the UNCLOS. Vietnam has proactively engaged in discussions of and supported the ratification of the two Resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly on the ocean and sustainable maritime fishing activities as well as participating in the informal annual consultation on issues related to the ocean and the Law of the Sea.

In addition, Vietnam also participated in the formulation of various international and regional legal documents related to the sea, including the Convention on the International Maritime Satellite Organisation (INMARSAT), and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). The country has established a system of coastal information stations to maintain communication with and among fishing boats. Inspection of vessels at seaports is always conducted in accordance with regional agreements on governmental inspection at ports.

Vietnam has joined the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and other instruments under the umbrella of this Organisation, including the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships and the 1978 Supplemented Protocol (MARPOL 73/78), the International Convention on Tonnage Measurement of Ships (Tonnage 69), the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG 72), the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS 74), the International Convention on Load Lines (Load Line 66), the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Crew Members (STCW 78/95), the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA 88) and the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf, the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (CLC 1992 – Vietnam ratified the Convention on July 1st 2003, and the Convention entered into force for Vietnam since July 1st 2004), the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL), and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR 79).

Vietnam has signed a number of ASEAN agreements related to shipping and maritime services, including the Agreement for the facilitation of search of ships in distress and rescue of survivors of ship accidents signed on May 15th 1975; the ASEAN Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Goods in Transit signed on December 16th 1998, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) signed in December 1995, the ASEAN Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Transnational Transport signed on March 26th 2012.

Vietnam’s accession to sea-related international and regional legal documents reflects the commitments of the Government of Vietnam to the full observation of UNCLOS’ provisions.

In summary, over the past 30 years, the UNCLOS has provided a solid international legal basis for defining the rights and obligations of coastal states and for settling issues related to the sea and the ocean including sea disputes. As a coastal state, Vietnam has always taken an active role and made continuous efforts in observing and implementing the UNCLOS in its integrity. Vietnam is of the view that a full implementation of the rights and duties of all State Parties enshrined in the UNCLOS will help avoid tensions and disputes on the sea and better utilize sea and ocean resources for human benefits.

Vietnam has fully abided by and will continue to act in accordance with the purposes and objectives and provisions of the UNCLOS, and urge other countries to take the same course of action.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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