The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has been recognised by the International Maritime Law Institute for its “meritorious contribution towards the development, interpretation and implementation of international maritime law.” The award was conferred on the Tribunal at the 2008 graduation ceremony of the Institute which took place on 3 May 2008 in Malta.
In fact, the workload of the Tribunal in its first decade of operation has been relatively light. Since its establishment following the entry into force of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in November 1994, the Tribunal has been seised with only fifteen disputes. Of those, nine have involved applications for prompt release of fishing vessels and three have been applications for provisional measures pending the establishment of a permanent arbitral tribunal. For both of these categories of dispute, the Tribunal has a residual compulsory jurisdiction. The Tribunal has only decided one case (the M/V SAIGA Case) on the merits. Another case ( Case concerning the Conservation and Sustainable Exploitation of Swordfish Stocks in the South-Eastern Pacific Ocean) is pending whilst the parties continue negotiations.
The Tribunal is only one of several dispute settlement organs to which law of the sea disputes can be submitted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Of the 45 states which have submitted a declaration under Article 287 of the Convention choosing a procedure for the settlement of disputes, only 24 have selected the Tribunal. An equal number have chosen the ICJ as their preferred dispute settlement body. However, most States Parties to the Convention have not made a declaration under Article 287. In this situation, any disputes will be decided by ad hoc arbitration according to Annex VII of the Convention unless the disputing states can agree otherwise. It is perhaps such ad hoc dispute settlement bodies which will make the most significant contribution to the development, interpretation and implementation of the international law of the sea in practice.