Hirono, Murkowski Introduce Bipartisan Resolution Urging U.S. Approval of the Law of the Sea Treaty

This Month Marks the 25th Anniversary of the U.S. Signing Treaty but Senate Has Failed To Vote On Ratification

Today, Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced S.Res.284, a resolution calling on the U.S. Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS, which has been ratified by 167 nations and the European Union, lays out the rights and responsibilities of countries related to the world’s oceans, including guidelines for businesses and the management of marine natural resources. U.S. Representatives Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced a companion resolution, H.Res.454, in the U.S. House of Representatives in June.

“The United States and our allies face aggressive and often hostile threats to international freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, the South China Sea, the Artic, and the Black Sea, among many other regions of the world. This is why it is so important for the United States to become party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides a legal framework enshrining rights key to our nation’s maritime interests,” Senator Hirono said. “Becoming party to UNCLOS protects our right of free passage through territorial seas and ensures we have a seat at the table on decisions impacting Hawaii and the ocean around us. I am proud to join Senator Murkowski in calling for the long-overdue ratification of UNCLOS.”

“It is time for the United States to be part of the Law of the Sea Treaty—to have a seat at the table, rather than watching from the outside hoping our interests are not diminished. We must ask ourselves: Do we want to ensure our voice is heard, or do we place our interests in the hands of other nations? This is an opportunity to further U.S. leadership in the international community,” Senator Murkowski said. “Many may not be aware, but Alaska accounts for more than a third of our nation’s entire coastline. Likewise, the Arctic Ocean covers merely three percent of Earth’s surface, but accounts for over twenty-five percent of the world’s continental shelf area. In considering a Treaty that affords us the ability to claim additional jurisdiction over an area the size of California in the Arctic, Americans should have a strong interest. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to ratify this treaty.”

“I’m encouraged to see continued bipartisan support for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea from my colleagues in the Senate,” Representative Courtney said. “Both chambers of Congress understand the importance of formally affirming rules-based order in the maritime domain by ratifying UNCLOS. As China and Russia continue to push the boundaries of their maritime claims, activity in the Strait of Hormuz threatens global shipping, and the Arctic becomes increasingly open to economic and military expansion, it is of utmost importance that the Senate take up and ratify this critical treaty. My colleagues in both the House and Senate should recognize the necessity of ratification, and support our efforts so that the U.S. can defend its interests as well as freedom of navigation around the world from a legitimate position as a party of UNCLOS.”

“The Nature Conservancy supports the call of Senator Hirono and Senator Murkowski for the Senate to move quickly to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” Nature Conservancy Vice President for Public Policy and Government Relations Lynn Scarlett said. “Ratification ensures that the United States may fully engage with other countries and international organizations on the many issues addressed by UNCLOS that are critical to U.S. interests, positions and expertise, including protecting the health and biodiversity of the world’s oceans.”

“I’d like to commend Senator Mazie Hirono for her leadership and persistence in re-introducing this important bipartisan resolution in support of U.S. ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty,” Ralph Cossa, Pacific Forum President Emeritus, said. “Tensions are rising in hotspots like the South China Sea as a result of China’s increased assertiveness. This treaty is critical to ensuring freedom of navigation, peacefully resolving disputes, and upholding the international rules-based order that has contributed not only to our national security but to Hawaii’s security given our state’s reliance on open maritime commerce and ocean resources. U.S. ratification is long-overdue. Failure to ratify puts us at a disadvantage when promoting our vital national security interests.”

This July marks the 25th anniversary since the U.S. signed UNCLOS on July 29, 1994, but the U.S. Senate has yet to vote and ratify the treaty. Originally adopted in 1982, UNCLOS was further revised by a 1994 agreement to modify provisions related to seabed mining and has been in force ever since. The United States signed the 1994 agreement, which was subsequently transmitted to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in support of ratifying the agreement in 2004 and in 2007. However, a U.S. Senate floor vote has yet to take place.

Support for UNCLOS ratification comes from a wide range of environmental, scientific, labor and industry organizations.

The full text of the U.S. Senate resolution is available here.