A general presentation of the Tribunal's activities may be found in the brochure, which is available in English and French, as well as in ArabicChineseGermanRussian and Spanish. Copies may also be obtained from the Press Office of the Tribunal.

When was the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea adopted?

The Convention was adopted by the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea on 30 April 1982 and opened for signature on 10 December 1982. It entered into force on 16 November 1994.

How many States Parties to the Convention are there?

There are currently 169 States Parties to the Convention. This includes 168 States and one international organization (European Community). A full list of States Parties may be found on the internet pages of the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea.

Why was the Tribunal established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea?

The Tribunal was established as a specialised tribunal to deal with disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention.

When was the Tribunal established?

The Tribunal came into existence following the entry into force of the Convention on 16 November 1994. After the election of the first judges on 1 August 1996, the Tribunal took up its work in Hamburg on 1 October 1996. The official inauguration of the Tribunal was held on 18 October 1996.

Why is Hamburg the seat of the Tribunal?

Hamburg was chosen to be the seat of the Tribunal by the representatives of the States participating in the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea by secret ballot on 21 August 1981. The choice of Hamburg, a well-known port city reputed for its long tradition in international shipping and maritime trade, is reflected in article 1, paragraph 2, of the Statute of the Tribunal.

Who funded the Tribunal's headquarters building?

The headquarters building was funded by the Federal Government of Germany (80%) and the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (20%) and made available to the Tribunal rent-free. The maintenance costs for the running of the building are covered by the budget of the Tribunal.

Who designed the building?

The building was designed by Baron Alexander and Baroness Emanuela von Branca, a Munich-based firm of architects, who won an international competition organised in 1989.

Which languages does the Tribunal use?

The two official languages of the Tribunal are English and French. Other languages may be used by parties during proceedings, in which case the party concerned is requested to make the necessary arrangements for interpretation and/or translation into one of the official languages.

Is the Tribunal part of the United Nations?

The Tribunal is an independent judicial body that maintains close links with the United Nations. The Tribunal and the United Nations have entered into agreement concerning cooperation and relationship. The United Nations has granted the Tribunal observer status in the General Assembly. In addition the staff of the Tribunal are remunerated in accordance with the United Nations common system of salaries, allowances and benefits, as administered by the International Civil Service Commission. The Tribunal participates in the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund.

How much is the Tribunal's budget?

The budget of the Tribunal has been set at EUR 23,443,900 for 2023-2024.

Who sets the budget and how are the contributions fixed?

The budget of the Tribunal is adopted annually by the Meeting of States Parties to the Convention, on the basis of budget proposals submitted by the Tribunal.  The Meeting of States Parties is convened by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and takes place at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The States Parties pay contributions to the budget based upon the scale of assessments of the budget of the United Nations adjusted to take into account participation in the Convention. The European Union pays a fixed contribution set by the Meeting of States Parties.

How are the judges of the Tribunal elected and who elects them?

The judges of the Tribunal are elected by the States Parties. Elections for the position of one-third of the judges of the Tribunal are held at the Meeting of States Parties every three years in New York. Candidates must be nominated by States Parties and require a two-thirds majority of the votes of the States Parties present and voting in order to be elected.

What are the prerequisites for becoming a judge?

Article 2 of the Statute of the Tribunal sets down that it "shall be composed of a body of 21 independent members, elected from among persons enjoying the highest reputation for fairness and integrity and of recognized competence in the field of the law of the sea." 

How many judges are there?

 There are 21 judges.

What is the term of the judges?

 The judges are elected for a term of nine years.

Is there a geographical distribution of judges?

The Tribunal may not include more than one judge of the same nationality on its bench and the representation of the principal legal systems of the world and geographical distribution shall be assured. The composition of the Judges is currently as follows:

Africa: 5
Asia: 5
Eastern Europe: 3
Latin America and the Caribbean: 4
Western Europe and other States: 4

Are the judges permanently resident in Hamburg?

Only the President of the Tribunal is permanently based in Hamburg. The other judges must be permanently available to exercise their functions and travel to Hamburg for cases and organizational sessions.

How are the President and Vice-President chosen and for how long?

The judges elect the President and Vice-President from among themselves by secret ballot for three years.

What is a judge ad hoc?

A party to a case that does not have a judge of its own nationality on the bench may nominate a person to sit as a judge during the case. The judge ad hoc participates in that case on an equal basis with the other judges.

Have any chambers been constituted?

As provided for by its Statute, the Tribunal has constituted the Seabed Disputes Chamber and the Chamber of Summary Procedure. Three other chambers have been formed by the Tribunal, the Chamber for Fisheries Disputes, the Chamber for Marine Environment Disputes and the Chamber for Maritime Delimitation Disputes. In addition special chambers have been formed to deal with the Case concerning the Conservation and Sustainable Exploitation of Swordfish Stocks in the South-Eastern Pacific Ocean (Chile/European Union)the Dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean (Ghana/Côte d'Ivoire) and the Dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Mauritius and Maldives in the Indian Ocean (Mauritius/Maldives) and The M/T "Heroic Idun" (No. 2) Case (Marshall Islands/Equatorial Guinea).

What is the function of the Registry?

The Registry is the administrative organ of the Tribunal. Headed by the Registrar, it consists of a number of different departments: Legal, Administration and Finance, Electronic Data Processing, Press, Conference and Linguistic Services and Library.

What are the responsibilities of the Registrar?

The Registrar is responsible for all legal and administrative work, for the assessment and collection of contributions, and for the administration of the accounts and finances of the Tribunal. The Registrar is the regular channel of communications to and from the Tribunal, keeps the List of cases, and keeps copies of communications and agreements as required by the Rules.

How many members of staff are there?

There are currently 38 members of staff.

Is there a geographical distribution of staff?

The Tribunal endeavours to maintain as wide a geographical distribution as possible in its selection of staff. There are currently 14 different nationalities represented at the Tribunal.

What is the List of cases?

The List of cases is a list of all the cases that have been submitted to the Tribunal.

How many cases have been submitted to the Tribunal so far?

Thirty-two cases have been submitted to the Tribunal to date.

How are proceedings instituted before the Tribunal?

Disputes before the Tribunal are instituted either by written application or by notification of a special agreement. The procedure to be followed for the institution of proceedings before the Tribunal is defined in the Statute and the Rules of the Tribunal as well as in the Guidelines concerning the Preparation and Presentation of Cases before the Tribunal.

What type of cases are submitted to the Tribunal?

Any case arising out of the application or interpretation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea may be brought to the Tribunal. In the cases submitted to the Tribunal to date the following matters have figured prominently: prompt release of vessels and crews under article 292 of the Convention, coastal State jurisdiction in its maritime zones, freedom of navigation, hot pursuit, marine environment, flags of convenience and conservation of fish stocks. The Tribunal's jurisdiction also extends to cases arising out of other agreements that confer jurisdiction on the Tribunal.

Are the hearings open to the public?

The hearings are public unless the Tribunal decides otherwise or the parties to the case request that the public not be admitted. People wishing to attend the hearings should register with the Press Office in advance to ensure entry.

Who bears the expenses of the Tribunal for cases submitted to it?

Expenses of the Tribunal, including expenses incurred on account of cases submitted to it, are borne by the States Parties to the Convention through the budget of the Tribunal. States Parties are therefore not required to pay the Tribunal any additional amount if they are parties to cases before the Tribunal. Non-States Parties would be required to pay a fee fixed by the Tribunal.

What law is applied by the Tribunal?

The Tribunal applies the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other rules of international law not incompatible with the Convention.

Can experts be appointed by the Tribunal?

Yes. If the Tribunal decides that it requires expert advice on a case involving technical or scientific matters it may select an expert under article 289 of the Convention, to be chosen in consultation with the parties and preferably from the list of experts maintained in accordance with article 2 of Annex VIII to the Convention.

Can parties present witnesses during hearings?

Yes. Witnesses can be presented during hearings.

Is the Tribunal the only court dealing with law of the sea cases?

No. The Tribunal is one means for the settlement of disputes arising out of the Convention, the other means being the International Court of Justice, an arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VII to the Convention, and a special arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VIII to the Convention. The United Nations General Assembly has recognized the contribution of the Tribunal to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with Part XV of the Convention and has underlined the Tribunal's important role and authority concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention.

Do States have to have accepted the Tribunal's jurisdiction in advance?

Generally speaking, all parties to a case have to accept the jurisdiction of the Tribunal before the case is dealt with by the Tribunal. The jurisdiction may be accepted either before the dispute arises or thereafter.

Can only States Parties submit cases to the Tribunal?

The Tribunal is also open to entities other than States Parties to the Convention in any case expressly provided for in Part XI of the Convention or in any case submitted pursuant to any other agreement conferring jurisdiction on the Tribunal which is accepted by all the parties to that case. In Part XI provision is made, for example, for private companies or individuals to bring cases to the Seabed Disputes Chamber in connection with activities in the Area. 

Are the Tribunal's decisions binding and how can the Tribunal enforce them?

The decisions of the Tribunal are final and binding and the parties to the dispute are required to comply with them. However, the Tribunal has no means of enforcing its decisions. 

What is a prompt release case?

Article 292 of the Convention deals with cases relating to the prompt release of vessels and crews from detention, in certain cases when it is alleged that the detaining State has not complied with the provisions of the Convention for the prompt release of vessels and crews upon the posting of a reasonable bond or other financial security.  Under its Rules, the Tribunal is required to deliver its judgments in such cases within 30 days of the date upon which the application is filed with the Tribunal.

Are provisional measures prescribed by the Tribunal effective?

The parties to a dispute are required to comply promptly with any provisional measures prescribed by the Tribunal either under article 290, paragraph 1, of the Convention or under article 290, paragraph 5, of the Convention.

Is there any recourse to appeal?

No. The decisions of the Tribunal are final.  However, the Rules of the Tribunal make provision regarding requests for the interpretation or revision of a judgment.

Can I visit the Tribunal?

Yes. Guided tours of the Tribunal can be arranged for groups of up to 30 people.  Tours last approximately one-and-a-half hours and are conducted in English, French or German. Virtual visits to the Tribunal may be arranged while visits to the Tribunal are restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic or for legal practitioners and law students otherwise unable to travel to Hamburg.

Does the Tribunal have any publications?

The Tribunal has the following publications:

  • Basic Texts
  • Yearbooks
  • Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders
  • Pleadings, Minutes of Public Sittings and Documents 

How can I get general information about the Tribunal?

The website is the best place to start in order to obtain general information.  In addition a brochure on the Tribunal may be obtained from the Press Office

How do I find out about jobs or internships at the Tribunal?

All vacancies are posted here.  Questions thereto may be sent to the Personnel Department.  Information about the internship programme is also available here or from the Press Office.


If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.