The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS) establishes a comprehensive regime for the law of the sea. Part XIII (Articles 238-265) provides among other things, that every State has the right to conduct marine scientific research, but that right is subject to the rights and duties of the coastal State in whose jurisdiction the research is being conducted. While coastal States have the exclusive right to regulate, authorise and conduct Marine Scientific Research (MSR) in their waters, UNCLOS provides that in normal circumstances, such States shall grant their consent for MSR in their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or Continental Shelf.
Australia gives effect to its obligations under UNCLOS provisions through the granting of PVS to foreign vessels wishing to conduct MSR in Australia's waters and/or Continental Shelf. Public vessels are regarded in Australia as those vessels owned, chartered, temporarily employed, contracted or commissioned by any foreign State, when such vessels are not engaged in any commercial activity.