The dispute settlement system of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, while compulsory, is flexible, open and allows for creative solutions. A clear example is the Seabed Disputes Chamber (sdc), which was originally conceived as an independent tribunal and was endowed with wide competence and innovations compared with other international jurisdictions.
The Seabed Disputes Chamber has defined itself as “(…) a separate judicial body within the Tribunal entrusted, through its advisory and contentious jurisdiction, with the exclusive function of interpreting Part xi of the Convention and the relevant annexes and regulations that are the legal basis for the organization and management of activities in the Area.”
Being an independent and impartial body, the sdc is part of the system in which the organs of the International Seabed Authority operate, and its functions are relevant for the good governance of the Area. In recent years, the activities of the International Seabed Authority have been growing exponentially, and with them, the number of contracts for exploration granted. Taking into account the steady pace of the submissions and approvals of plans of work for exploration, and considering the real possibility and feasibility to advance to the exploitation phase, the situations under the Convention that enable the contentious competence of the Chamber ceased to be a purely academic exercise.
The Seabed Disputes Chamber faces the challenge to exercise its responsibility to ensure that the regime for deep seabed mining—as conceived in the Convention and the 1994 Agreement—is properly interpreted and applied.