Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Alaska and Law of the Sea Convention: Senators Begich and Murkowski, Governor Palin, and the Alaskan Legislature all call for ratification of UNCLOS

At the opening day of the 3rd Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations, sponsored by the National Ice Center and the US Arctic Research Commission, Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) called for ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention in his speech to the conference, as did Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in a letter read on her behalf.  Senator Begich proposed four additional policy recommendations, including U.S. ratification of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, designation of a US “Arctic Ambassador”, more investment in arctic science and, finally, strengthening arctic infrastructure, including “replacement of America’s aging ice-breakers, ensur[ing] that new Virginia class submarines are fully Arctic capable and new Coast Guard facilities from which to base aerial surveillance and emergency response capabilities” (from the related press release).

 Over the past few months, Alaska’s governor and Legislature have also made separate calls for the U.S. Senate to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention.  Governor Sarah Palin (R), spoke recently in a radio talk show of “having to do some educating there in conservative circles” about the importance of the treaty and reiterated that the U.S. has “got to be a player” by joining the Convention.  In May, the Alaska Legislature passed Joint Resolution JJR 222, which details Alaska’s particular interest in US ratification of the treaty.  Caitlyn Antrim, of OceanLaw.Org, has reported on both developments more extensively in her daily email service, saying of the Joint Resolution that it “was introduced on March 2nd, 2009, passed the House on April 8th, the Senate on April 16, was enrolled and transmitted to the Governor on May 27th.  Hearings were held, out of state witnesses testified and the issue was debated in both houses, all in a period of less than three months. ”

The NIC/USARC conference at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis continues for two more days (June 9-11).  For more information now, visit the conference website.  Of special note is that of the speakers at the Symposium's opening day who mentioned the Law of the Sea Convention, every one of them called for U.S. ratification. These included the Hon. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator, and Admiral Thad W. Allen, Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.