How to hold Russia accountable for environmental crimes at sea: An overview of the Convention on Maritime Law
Ever since Russia launched its all-out war against Ukraine, Russian soldiers have been committing crimes throughout Ukraine. This includes the fauna and flora of the Black Sea and the Azov Sea which have suffered from substantial damage to the maritime ecosystem.
From the first days of war Russia’s naval vessels unlawfully entered Ukrainian territorial waters, violating the established rules for such conduct; every day Russia’s warships violate the laws and rules protecting a coastal State.
In particular, Russia is firing missiles and shells from warships unlawfully positioned within Ukraine’s territorial waters. A certain proportion of the missiles and shells fail to reach their target and fall into the sea. Disintegrating as they fall, these shells and missiles are wreaking considerable damage on living animals and plants and to life in the sea.
Russia has also resorted to the mining of the waters of the Black Sea from the Bosphorus to Odesa and, later, to the mining of the Azov Sea. Russia’s use of floating mines forms a threat, above all, to civilian shipping and human life, to the ecosystem not only of the waters of the Black and Azov Seas, but also to the Kerch and Black Sea Straits.
Even before 24 February, Russia imposed a naval blockade of Ukraine’s ports that continues to this day.
As a consequence of Russia’s armed aggression, the sinking of destroyed ships and flying craft in Ukraine’s territorial waters is recorded almost every day and this also harms the ecosystem of the Azov and Black Seas.
Such behaviour on the part of Russia and its naval vessels is in direct violation of the rules of international maritime law. In particular, it infringes the 1982 UN Convention on Maritime Law (UNCLOS), which Russia ratified with Federal Law No. 30-F3 of 26 April 1997.
By signing and ratifying the Convention, Russia became a State-party and agreed to observe its rules. As defined by Article 1 of the Convention, it remains a State-party to this day.
The full text of the annotated overview in Ukrainian (17 pp) may be downloaded using this link.
The Convention itself can be found here.