Human activities in these areas, including some necessary industrial processes, can cause damage to these environments. Many international laws about the environmental impact of ships themselves already exist, to restrict the carrying of potentially harmful chemicals in ships, to limit the unintentional capture of animals such as dolphins and sharks in nets intended for other fish, and to protect endangered animals such as various whales, and habitats such as coral reefs.
Numerous oil spillages in the news in recent years have shown that there is still more that can be done in terms of safety at sea, the response to various disasters, and the positioning of responsibility and blame once these incidents occur.Many nations have "clean water" acts that prohibit the dumping of certain chemicals into waterways (which in turn make their way into seas and oceans) although these certainly are not universal. Even if a country does have these laws in place, there would be nothing stopping a company "going rogue" and taking such substances out into International Waters and dumping there.
The very nature of the earth's oceans means that water, and any pollutants contained within, travels vast distances, usually in equally long amounts of time. The possibility that a nation that pays a great amount of attention to maintaining its coastline, and the ecosystems contained within, could be barraged by dangerous substances dumped half a world away is not an appealing one.
When a section of docking demolished during the Japanese Tsunami washed ashore on the western coast of the United States, there was no telling how much damage it had caused on its journey, and the clean-up efforts could have been considerably expensive. Should the US pay for this, or should Japan?
Should there be international laws about the amount of fish that can be harvested from certain areas? Will these laws be different from the various regulations and quotas that nations already have in place?
If such laws are introduced, there is the further concern as to whose responsibility it will be to monitor and regulate the activity in these areas. Who will decide which areas are in danger? What will constitute too much fishing in these areas?
If a resolution focusses on fishing quotas, these questions must be addressed.
Oceans alone cover around 360,000,000 km2 of the world's surface (around 70%), which is more than one and a half thousand times the area of the island of Great Britain. Unauthorised dumping of industrial waste and other detritus is already an issue in many places around the world simply because International Waters are too large to effectively police.
In many cases, the generation of pollutants through industrial processes is an unavoidable result of economic expansion. Although they have great respect for the seas, island-bound nations have the right to grow, and the right to construct factories and power plants, whereas they might not have the facilities available to dispose of the waste produced safely. Would bans on chemical dumping or fines leveed against companies or governments doing so harm these nations unfairly?
- The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships - MARPOL (1973)
- International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea - SOLAS (1960)
International Waters - any body of water outside of the jurisdiction of a particular state. As such they are free from many laws, taxes and the protection offered by many states.