Book Review: The Law of the Sea

Oct 10, 2018 | 2018, Book Review, News

The African Union and its Member States
Editors: Patrick Vrancken and Martin Tsamenyi (867 pages)
Juta & Co (Pty) Ltd

The Law of the Sea“On life’s vast ocean diversely we sail, Reason the card, but passion is the gale.”
– Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744)

Taking ownership of the sacred responsibility of safeguarding the future of our planet has become increasingly urgent as changes in the environment and challenges to sustainability are experienced with growing alarm around the globe.

The sea forms by far the major surface area of our planet. But it is a surface that has barely been scratched. Economic gains have flowed from offshore oil, gas and mineral exploitation, but these are non-renewable resources and will be exhausted at some point. At the same time, marine living resources are under threat despite playing a key role in poverty alleviation, employment and food security.

The traditional customary-law regime of freedom of the high seas, only limited along the coasts by narrow territorial waters, inevitably came under pressure during the 20th century. A “free for all” invariably seems to lead to conflict.

As a result, various treaties were introduced in attempts to regulate these choppy waters through international law. Examples are the 1958 Convention on the Continental Shelf, produced by the First United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, the 1958 Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas, and the 1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea set out the fundamental principles of the contemporary law of the sea. It also contains a vast range of specific provisions drafted in varying degrees of detail.

It has become imperative for the continent of Africa, comprising more than a quarter of the United Nations membership, to play its rightful role in the modern law of the sea. The adoption by the African Union in 2014 of its 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy and the publication by the UN Economic Commission for Africa of its Blue Economy Policy Handbook in 2016, further enables all the countries on the continent to eliminate various factors which have contributed to the perpetuation of patterns of disadvantage.

This newly published book is undoubtedly a significant contribution to the sparse scholarship on Africa and the law of the sea. It is set to serve as a foundation for more systematic and comprehensive efforts to address ocean-law reform by individual African states through regional co-operation and integration.

An initial overview of the law of the sea sets the scene and establishes the context for this study. The various maritime zones are described and defined. Exploitation of ocean resources, marine scientific research, the transfer of technology, and other maritime activities are explained. Pollution and measures to protect the marine environment are succinctly addressed.

The important role of the African Union and its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, in the development of the law of the sea is set out, with a schedule of the key declarations and agreements of the OAU and the AU on the law of the sea. This underscores the importance of an African-centered and African-driven strategy to achieve greater solidarity between African countries in charting a course for the development and implementation of the modern law of the sea.

A series of chapters deals in detail with the regional approach along the continent’s eastern Indian Ocean, western Atlantic Ocean, and northern Mediterranean coastlines. The extensive footnotes underpin the wealth of fascinating information that has been marshalled between the covers of this volume. From maritime search and rescue to hydrographic co-operation, from port control to illegal fishing, from dumping to migrant smuggling, the subject matter covered is as vast as the oceans themselves.

An assembly of over 30 outstanding experts, researchers, academics and office-bearers have contributed the various chapters, including those dealing specifically with the law of the sea in 19 different countries, among them Senégal, Sierra Leone, Angola, Tanzania, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Seychelles, South Africa and Guinea-Bissau. This comparative national and regional evaluation lays the groundwork for yet further continent-wide co-ordination and accommodation. A separate chapter deals with landlocked states. The chapters in French and Portuguese will be available in English in Juta’s eBook once the translation is completed.

The distinguished editor Professor Patrick Vrancken and co-editor Professor Martin Tsamenyi, together with publisher Juta, have produced an exceptional resource at a critical time and tide in international politics, economics and technological development. This work will command a wide following throughout and beyond the African continent.

The extensive index, table of international and domestic African cases, applicable legislation in the different African jurisdictions, relevant multilateral treaties (dating back to 1888), and illustrative maps and diagrams fortify the masterful way in which this book delivers both substance and complexity, while remaining accessible to the broadest readership.

The book concludes with a measured, realistic and thought-provoking evaluation of the opportunities and benefits of sustainable ocean governance.

Our policy on the oceans must rest on the solid foundation of dedication to the primacy of people and their long-term well-being. We have to be on guard against temptations of short-term benefits and pressures from powerful forces at the expense of the long-term interests of all. We cannot afford to bargain away the birth right of future generations.”
– Nelson Mandela, at the Independent World Commission on the Oceans, in Cape Town on 11 November 1997.

Review by Louis Rood BA LLB (UCT), Consultant at Fairbridges Wertheim Becker Attorneys.