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The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 3, 397; 21 I.L.M. 1261 (1982) ("UNCLOS") lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world's oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources. It enshrines the notion that all problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be addressed as a whole. Moreover, UNCLOS clearly defines the territorial limits of nation states with respect to the high seas.
The Convention was opened for signature on December 10, 1982 in Montego Bay, Jamaica. This marked the culmination of more than 14 years of work involving participation by more than 150 countries representing all regions of the world, all legal and political systems and the spectrum of socio/economic development. At the time of its adoption, the Convention embodied in one instrument traditional rules for the uses of the oceans and at the same time introduced new legal concepts and regimes and addressed new concerns. The Convention also provided the framework for further development of specific areas of the law of the sea.
UNCLOS specifically mandates that States are bound to prevent and control marine pollution and are liable for damage caused by violation of their international obligations to combat such pollution.
Interestingly, although the United States now recognizes the UNCLOS as a codification of customary international law, it has not yet ratified it.
The UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea maintains a helpful site on the Convention, which includes ratification information and other related documents. The website not only provides the full text of the Convention itself, but also has links to the historical background of the Convention as well as the current ratification status of the signatories.