International Relations and Defence Committee
UNCLOS: the law of the sea in the 21st century

2nd Report of Session 2021-22 - published 1 March 2022 - HL Paper 159



Chapter 1: Introduction

The development of UNCLOS

Box 1: Timeline of the development of UNCLOS

The structure of UNCLOS

Figure 1: Schematic showing how relevant international organisations and treaties relate to UNCLOS

Box 2: The International Maritime Organization

Key provisions

Maritime zones and boundaries

Figure 2: The main maritime zones defined by UNCLOS

Dispute settlement mechanisms

Our inquiry

This report

Chapter 2: Evaluating UNCLOS

Achievements and strengths

Weaknesses and gaps

Compliance and enforcement

Table 1: Flag states by gross tonnage as of end of year 2020 (top ten, UK and US)

Updating, supplementing or amending UNCLOS

The UK’s role and influence

Chapter 3: Maritime security

Does UNCLOS help or hinder maritime security?

Flags of convenience

Examples of maritime security challenges

Piracy and armed robbery at sea

Law enforcement of maritime zones

China’s actions in the South China Sea

Security threats stemming from climate change

Chapter 4: Climate change and the environment

Baselines and maritime entitlements

Displaced persons and climate change-related refugees

Impact of climate change on the marine environment

Distribution of fish stocks

The Arctic

Marine biodiversity

Chapter 5: Human rights and labour protections at sea

The application of international human rights law at sea

Specific challenges in the 21st century

Migration by sea

Forced labour and excessive work conditions

Physical and sexual crimes at sea

Possible solutions

Chapter 6: Maritime autonomous vehicles

Military use

The Royal Navy’s legal approach

Cybersecurity considerations

Criminal use

Commercial use

The role of the UK

Chapter 7: Regulation of access to economic resources

Rights within the exclusive economic zone

Overlapping claims to sovereignty and jurisdiction

Areas beyond national jurisdiction

Non-living resources on the deep seabed

Living resources on the deep seabed


Challenges facing fisheries management

Subsea cables

Challenges in practice

Priorities for the United Kingdom

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

Appendix 1: List of Members and declarations of interest

Appendix 2: List of witnesses

Appendix 3: Call for evidence

Appendix 4: Acronyms

Evidence is published online at and available for inspection at the Parliamentary Archives (020 7219 3074).

Q in footnotes refers to a question in oral evidence.

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