One of the key features of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is its recognition that the seabed and its resources beyond national jurisdiction are the common heritage of mankind. Part XI of the Convention gives precise legal meaning to this term. The International Seabed Authority is responsible for implementing the common heritage principle. Since the Authority was established in 1994, a comprehensive legal regime for the Area has been established. Despite initial problems, the international machinery for the administration of this regime is functioning well. The Authority has made good progress, on the basis of the evolutionary approach set out in the 1994 Agreement, in elaborating a regulatory regime for access to the resources of the Area. Much more work remains to be done, however; in particular, if the economic benefits of the common heritage are to be realized.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea established the Seabed Disputes Chamber as a specialized Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to deal exclusively with disputes arising under Part xi of the Convention relating to deep seabed mining. A distinctive feature of the Part xi dispute settlement mechanisms is that, unlike the dispute settlement provisions contained in Part xv, most of them are available to entities other than States Parties. This chapter identifies the sort of disputes that may arise once deep seabed mining starts and which the Seabed Disputes Chamber might have to deal with. The chapter also reviews potential disputes that do not seem to be covered by the provisions of Section 5 and considers how these may be resolved. The Chapter concludes, inter alia, that the jurisdiction of the Chamber is so specialized and so circumscribed by the wording of Articles 187 and 188 that only a rather small number of disputes will be likely to reach the Chamber. The possible need for recourse to experts is highlighted, as well as the need for clarification of the responsibilities of sponsoring States in relation to the activities of their sponsored contractors.