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high seas

  These constitute all those parts of the ocean and the ocean-floor, including the subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdictions. Under the terms of the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), the high seas constitute the common heritage of humankind and rights to their resources are vested in humankind as a whole, with the International Seabed Authority acting on behalf of the global community. When the convention was first published in 1982, the major maritime industrial nations, including France, the UK and the USA, refused to accept an arrangement whereby they ceded their exclusive rights to exploit the resources of the high seas, in particular the seabed. They argued that they alone possessed the technology to do so and that they should be free to reap the economic benefits. A compromise was eventually agreed in 1994, which preserved the concept of the International Seabed Authority but gave the industrial nations disproportionate power to influence its decisions through a weighted voting system.

France and the UK both signed up to the convention in 1997, but the largest global industrial power, the USA, still refuses to do so. The reasons for its reluctance are now becoming abundantly clear. Not only is the technology for exploiting the known mineral resources of the ocean-floor increasingly cost-effective, but new resources, especially those associated with deep sea volcanic outpourings, are also being discovered and in many cases are proving of even greater potential economic value. As a result, the robustness and viability of the provisions for the management of the high seas in the UNCLOS III remain very much open to question (see law of the sea). (MB)

Suggested Reading Juda, L. 1996: International law and ocean use management. The evolution of ocean governance. London and New York: Routledge.



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