Germany is participating in a non-contentious case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg concerning the extent to which states are liable if companies sponsored by them cause damage to the seabed in international waters.
The eleven judges of the Seabed Disputes Chamber of the Tribunal will hear the views of 9 states and 3 international organizations, including Germany, over three days from 14 to 16 September. They will then produce the advisory opinion that the International Seabed Authority in Kingston has requested from the Tribunal. Germany attaches considerable importance to this case.
The “Area” comprising the seabed in international waters is designated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the “common heritage of mankind”. It is administered by the International Seabed Authority which, for example, issues exploration licences.
This is the first ever time that the Tribunal has been asked for an advisory opinion. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has been situated in Hamburg since 1996. Pursuant to UNCLOS it has jurisdiction over all issues regarding the international law of the sea. The German international jurist Rüdiger Wolfrum was President of the Tribunal from 2005 to 2008. In addition to contributing to the Tribunal’s regular budget, Germany has since 1996 spent some 53 million euro on the building and the Tribunal’s running costs.
Germany is at present one of the few states with companies that are licensed to conduct explorations on the seabed. Since 2006, a ship owned by the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in Hanover has undertaken annual research trips in the central Pacific, which are conducted in accordance with inter alia the provisions of the German Seabed Mining Act of 1995.