Law of the Sea

International relationships at sea are defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (1975-82).  UNCLOS came into force in 1994; a year after Guyana became the 60th state to ratify it.  The convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.  To date, 162 countries (excluding the USA which has signed, but not ratified) and the EC have ratified the convention.

How the law affects research

Maritime zones as affected by UNCLOSAmongst the issues with which UNCLOS is concerned is that of the conduct of marine scientific research.  In practice, this means permission must be gained from the country that owns the relevant area at least six months before research is scheduled to take place in the area.

The diagram, shown right, illustrates the relevant coastal state maritime zones and the relevant section from UNCLOS that set out the criteria for marine research in these zones. The UNCLOS 30th anniversary video, on the UN website, provides an oversight to the convention's creation.

Diplomatic clearance

The process of obtaining diplomatic clearance can be quite complex. The diagram below shows the organisations involved in obtaining diplomatic clearances for the research cruises that NOC operates.

Organisations involved in diplomatic clearance

All National Marine Facilities Sea Systems diplomatic clearance requests are submitted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  In order to maintain strong working relationships and to ease the process of gaining diplomatic clearance for future cruises, it is important that once a cruise is completed, a report is sent back to the relevant coastal state. This should outline the work carried out and any conclusions from the work. The new underwater glider facility being set up at NOC will also require diplomatic clearance to operate in future.

More information about UNCLOS or the application of Marine Scientific Research can be found on their respective websites. Guidance on the application process is published by the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea Office of Legal Affairs.


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The outputs of research generate new knowledge about the oceans. Transferring scientific knowledge to support business and industry is an important part of our NOC remit.



Our research is intended to tackle the big environmental issues facing the world. Research priorities will include the oceans' role in climate change, sea level change and the future of the Arctic Ocean.



The University of Southampton and the University of Liverpool both offer a range of highly regarded undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in Ocean and Earth Science.



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Delivery Partners

Delivery Partners helping to provide marine science national capability.


Marine Science Community

The creation of a wider association of Universities and research institutions to support wider engagement of the NOC with the marine science community is now underway.



The National Oceanographic Library is a national resource for the UK marine science community.


Principal scientists

All updated information for cruise participants can be found using the Marine Facilities Planning website: