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Law of the Sea: Getting Started


The modern Law of the Sea is an aspect of public international law that is based on the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the related International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) located in Hamburg, Germany, and the UN-created International Maritime Organization. 

However, the modern Law of the Sea can be traced back to the maritime practices of the Greek city-states, the Phoenician trading posts, and the Roman Empire.  As the nation states of Europe slowly evolved, so did the customs and usages of admiralty law, also known as maritime law.  The development of the Hanseatic League in northern Europe, combined with the development of customary international law following the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, led to the usage of well-developed notions of customary international law with regard to maritime rules, often enshrined in specific treaties.  Before World War II, most international maritime conventions were prepared under the auspices of private maritime-related organizations.  After World War II, the United Nations began treating maritime law as an important component of public international law.  The UN founded the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 1958.  In addition, from 1973 to 1982 the United Nations sponsored an ongoing “Conference on the Law of the Sea, out of which developed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  In addition to UNCLOS and the International Maritime Organization, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) is the third important component of the modern Law of the Sea. 

Michael Rogers authored this Research Guide as part of the course requirements for the fall 2012 Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Advanced Legal Research course.  Mr. Rogers graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law in May 2013. 

Maritime Commerce

Shipping containers on freight ship

Photo Credit: Mgunn on Wikipedia

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