Ambassador Gonsalves shakes hands with Counsellor Jia Gui-de of China, a delegate at the meeting.

NEW YORK — Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) was on June 13 unanimously elected president of the 21st Meeting of States Parties of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The 162 countries that are signatories to UNCLOS elected Amb. Gonsalves by acclamation, according to a press statement from SVG’s Mission to the United Nation.

The two-week Meeting of States Parties is held at the United Nations headquarters and governs the activities of the International Seabed Authority, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

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Amb. Gonsalves presided over negotiations regarding the workload and budget of these bodies, as well as discussions on maritime delimitation, disputes over sovereignty and territory, and issues related to exploration and exploitation of the resources of the ocean.

The meeting of States Parties also discussed a number of reports related to their work and elected seven judges to serve on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

In accepting the presidency of the meeting, Amb. Gonsalves said that UNCLOS is “steadily approaching universal participation,” with over 160 parties to the convention.

“The international community and individual states will benefit from a strong and universally accepted and implemented international legal regime applicable to the oceans, which is essential for the maintenance of international peace and security as well as for the sustainable use of the ocean resources, navigation, and protection of the marine environment,” he said.

During the meeting, while receiving a briefing from José Luis Jesus, president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Amb. Gonsalves said that SVG was the first litigant before the Tribunal in the 1997 MV Saiga case; its most recent case, the MV “Louisa” matter, as well as the 2004 “Juno Trader” case.

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According to Gonsalves, this made SVG the first, the last, and the most frequent litigant before the tribunal. “I don’t know if we should thank you, or apologise to you for sailing so frequently into your jurisdictional waters,” he quipped to the president of the tribunal.

The UNCLOS is often called the “Constitution of the Seas” and 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 resources.

The UNCLOS was conceived at a meeting in Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1982, and came into effect 12 years later.

Issues related to territorial waters, exclusive economic zones, and the continental shelf are all governed by UNCLOS. The convention also establishes general obligations for safeguarding the marine environment and protecting freedom of scientific research on the high seas, and creates an innovative legal regime for controlling mineral resource exploitation in deep seabed areas beyond national jurisdiction.

As president, Gonsalves was pivotal in setting the agenda and organizing the workload for the meeting, presiding over debates and discussions, helping to resolve disputes through negotiations, and making rulings related to submissions from member states.

The main segment of the 21st Meeting of States Parties to UNCLOS concluded on June 17. Delegations were unanimous in their congratulations of Amb. Gonsalves and praised him for the manner in which he presided over the meeting.