Deep-Sea Mining

October 6, 1978

Report Outline
Global Issue of Contention
Evolving Interest in the Sea
Coming Issues in Sea Mining
Special Focus

Global Issue of Contention

International Treaty Negotiating Impasse

The nations of the world have been meeting twice a year since 1973 in a futile attempt so far to agree on a new international law of the sea. The latest gathering — the seventh session of the Third United Nations Law of the Sea Conference — adjourned Sept. 15 in New York, with little progress to report. Elliot L. Richardson, the chief U.S. negotiator at the conference, said at adjournment that not much had been accomplished. But a “momentum toward a settlement” achieved at an earlier session in Geneva had been maintained, he added.

As in other recent sessions, issues over mining the ocean floor beyond the continental shelves provided the chief barrier to a settlement. Third World nations favor an ocean mining “regime” run solely by a U.N. agency, while the United States favors an approach involving private enterprise. An added complication is the prospect that Congress, with the Carter administration's blessing, might pass legislation to permit seabed mining by U.S. companies before a U.N. treaty is negotiated. Congressional action has been denounced by Third World spokesmen as disruptive and illegal. The U.S. delegation disputes that analysis.

Even before the New York meeting opened Aug. 22, Conference President A. Shirley Amerasinghe of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) told reporters that at least one more session would be needed to reach a final agreement. In adjourning the New York session, Amerasinghe announced that the conference would convene again in Geneva next March. Most observers doubt that the difficult issues can be resolved in just one more six-week negotiating session.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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