LAW4180 - International law of the sea and maritime security: Pirates, poachers, people smugglers & terrorists - 2017

6 points, SCA Band 3, 0.125 EFTSL

Undergraduate - Unit

Refer to the specific census and withdrawal dates for the semester(s) in which this unit is offered.



Unit guides



  • Second semester 2017 (Day)


This course provides a general introduction to the public international law of the sea with a focus on questions of maritime security, freedom of navigation and marine resource management. Maritime security, as studied in this course, encompasses such threats as terrorism, high seas piracy and the smuggling of drugs, migrants and weapons of mass destruction. The course will also examine questions of military activities, intelligence gathering at sea and maritime environmental protest. Ninety percent of the world's goods move by sea and we will cover the law governing the free movement of merchant and government ships. Marine resource management includes living resources (principally fisheries) and non-living resources (such as oil and gas).

The course will explore these issues in a manner which is historically informed and which focuses on a variety of topical case studies which may include, for example, piracy off Somali and elsewhere in the world, the South China Sea dispute, illegal fishing, whaling in the Antarctic, the emergence of deep-sea mining technology or the the controversy between Australia and Timor Leste over the management of the oil and gas in the Timor Gap.

As a major coastal State, the law of the sea touches on vital questions of Australia's national interests and resource security - many of which we will explore over the semester.

Key topics will include:

  • the negotiation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS);
  • the legal regimes of the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf;
  • maritime law enforcement, particularly on the high seas, with respect to piracy and transnational organised crime;
  • living marine resource management including fisheries management and the challenge of illegal fishing;
  • non-living marine resource management (including oil and gas, off-shore drilling and marine spatial planning) and the law of artificial islands and installations;
  • environmental protection; and
  • international dispute settlement and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), and the law applicable to the law of maritime boundaries and territorial demarcation.

This course does not cover questions of commercial maritime law such as the carriage of goods by sea and marine insurance.

When possible, the course will be taught semi-intensively over nine weeks. The teaching style adopted will reward attendance; it is not recommended that you take this unit if it clashes with other courses.


Upon completion of this unit students should be able to:

  • articulate and apply the international law of the sea as a body of rules to legal problems;
  • identify and critically discuss the content of the law of the sea with reference, inter alia, to appropriate treaty law, case law, evidence of custom and the writing of scholars;
  • explain the dynamic process by which the law of the sea is made and understand its place within the broader system of public international law;
  • analyse and critically evaluate some of the strengths and weaknesses of the law of the sea as a system for ensuring maritime security, for resource allocation and management, and for the resolution of disputes over maritime resources; and
  • conduct self-directed legal research.


Class participation: 10%

Reading note exercise (500): 10%

Individual or group research paper (2000 words): 40%

Take-home examination or accelerated assignment (2000 words): 40%

Workload requirements

Minimum total expected workload to achieve the learning outcomes for this unit is 144 hours per semester typically comprising a mixture of scheduled learning activities and independent study. The unit requires on average three/four hours of scheduled activities per week. Scheduled activities may include a combination of teacher directed learning, peer directed learning and online engagement.

See also Unit timetable information

Chief examiner(s)


For students who commenced their LLB (Hons) course in 2015 or later:

LAW1111; LAW1114; LAW1112; LAW1113; LAW2101; LAW2102; LAW2112; LAW2111

For students who commenced their LLB course prior to 2015: LAW1100 OR LAW1101 and LAW1102 or LAW1104