The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is one of the “compulsory procedures entailing binding decisions” provided for in Article 287 of the Convention. The Tribunal is established by Annex VI to the Convention which is its Statute. Within the Tribunal is established the Seabed Disputes Chamber which has jurisdiction to deal with respect to deep-sea mining activities covered by Part XI of the Convention.
The Tribunal performs three different but closely related functions. The first is to offer a forum of choice for states parties to the Convention to settle disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the provisions of the Convention. The second function is to provide a special, and largely mandatory, procedure for dealing with disputes in connection with the interpretation and application of the provisions of Part XI of the Convention. This is the function of the Seabed Disputes Chamber. The Chamber also has competence to give advisory opinions on legal questions arising within the scope of the activities of the Assembly and Council of the International Seabed Authority. Thirdly, the Tribunal serves as a residual and compulsory mechanism for the settlement of certain disputes identified by the Convention as requiring expeditious decision, such as applications for the prompt release of arrested vessels and crew or requests for the prescription of provisional measures pending final decisions in cases. The Tribunal may also deal with disputes arising under other maritime agreements, if the agreements so provide.
The Tribunal commenced operations in October 1996. It has completed organizational work for its administrative judicial functions. It has adopted its Rules, the Resolution on the Internal Judicial Procedure and Guidelines to assist parties appearing before it. It has also established special Chambers. The Tribunal has already dealt with one application for the prompt release of a vessel and crew arrested in a foreign port and one request for provisional measures. Proceedings are in progress on the merits of the first case submitted to it.