Marine Scientific Research (MSR) requests

For Australian research entities to undertake Marine Scientific Research under UNCLOS Part XIII in Foreign Coastal States waters and Continental Shelf

General Information

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 inter alia, 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.

Three (3) types of applications can be made:

  1. Undertake Marine Scientific Research (MSR) within the national jurisdiction and on the Continental Shelf of a Foreign State – Category 1
  2. Undertake MSR (as above) and make a visit/port call to 1 or more Foreign Ports – Category 1A
  3. Make a visit/port call to 1 or more Foreign Ports – Category 2

Where is the MSR application submitted?

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) on behalf of the Australian Government manages the MSR application process for Australian entities and Australian-flagged vessels wishing to conduct MSR within the jurisdiction and/or on the Continental Shelf of a Foreign State. This means that all applications for MSR must be submitted to:

What must be submitted when making a MSR application?

In order to ensure that Australia complies with its obligations under UNCLOS, DFAT requires all Australian entities and Australian-flagged vessels proposing to conduct MSR within the national jurisdiction and/or on the Continental Shelf of a Foreign State to provide us with information about proposed projects in order to allow a case-by-case assessment of whether formal notification needs to be provided to the relevant coastal State. Therefore, it is important that you provide full and accurate information.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization provides a generic template for an application to conduct marine scientific research. While this template may not cover all the requirements of the Foreign Government, we would encourage you to utilise this form, as it constitutes a useful standard. This form can be accessed through the following link: http://ioc-unesco.org/images/stories/LawoftheSea/Documents/MarineScientificResearch/MSR_FormA.pdf

When must a MSR application be submitted?

Timeframes are provided by UNCLOS and consistent with this DFAT requires all Australian entities and Australian-flagged vessels proposing to conduct MSR in another State's waters to provide us with information about proposed projects for:

Marine Scientific Research or Marine Scientific Research and Port visit

For applications to undertake MSR or to undertake MSR together with a visit to 1 or more foreign ports you must lodge your application a clear six (6) months in advance of the expected start date of the marine scientific research and/or the port call, whichever is the earlier date.

Port visit

For applications to visit 1 or more foreign ports you must lodge your application a clear two (2) months in advance of the expected date of your first (or only) port of call.

What if a MSR application requires amendment?

If you need to amend your application, you must submit any amendment to the Marine Scientific Research Officer, SEL, within the following timeframes:

Assessment process and disclosure of information

Applications are initially assessed by DFAT. If DFAT decides to notify the relevant coastal State, we will do so via official diplomatic channels. DFAT will then act as interlocutor on your behalf in gaining the approval or otherwise from the relevant coastal State. During this process, Australian entities and Australian-flagged vessels should not deal directly with the relevant coastal State unless requested to do so by DFAT.

As part of this consultation process, your application and any further material that you provide or are requested to provide by DFAT on behalf of the relevant coastal State including any material relating to the requirement/s for any additional permits will be disclosed/provided to relevant coastal State. The disclosure and provision of your material to the relevant coastal State is for the purpose of assessing and processing your application to grant consent to undertake MSR and any additional permits required or conditions imposed by the relevant coastal State.

In turn, the relevant coastal State as part of their assessment of your application may exchange, disclose/provide information related to your application including material related to any requirement for additional permits within their respective government departments, agencies and related entities for the purpose of assessing and processing your application to undertake MSR and/or any additional permits required or conditions imposed.

It may also be the case that DFAT will need to refer any or all of your application to relevant Australian Government Departments and Agencies including Australian State and Territory Government Departments and Agencies.

In lodging your application with DFAT you accept that the disclosure/provision and exchange of the information contained in your application and any related material will occur between DFAT, relevant Australian Government Departments and Agencies and the relevant coastal State and their agencies and related entities, as required, to process your application.

Outcomes

Following consideration of your application to undertake MSR by the relevant coastal State, DFAT will provide you with the advice of the relevant coastal State decision, which may include:

In normal circumstances, coastal States shall grant their consent for MSR in their EEZ and/or continental shelf. Indeed, the spirit and form of UNCLOS provisions encourages international cooperation in MSR for peaceful purposes.

Conditions imposed on PVS approvals

Reasonable conditions may be imposed on any permission granted pursuant to and directed towards compliance with the relevant coastal States guidelines, applicable laws and Treaties and Conventions to which the relevant coastal State is a party, including UNCLOS and the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity.

Conditions may also address commercial benefits, which might flow from research in the coastal State in whose jurisdiction the research is being conducted. Research proponents may be requested to complete Statutory Declarations or like documents pursuant to the relevant coastal State's laws.

Coastal State participation and provision of MSR outcomes

Under UNCLOS, coastal States have the prerogative to participate or be represented in the MSR project, including on-board the vessel. UNCLOS in addition, places a duty on vessels conducting MSR to comply with certain conditions, in particular, requests from the coastal State in whose EEZ and/or continental shelf the research is being conducted. This includes complying with requests from the coastal State for preliminary reports and final results and conclusions of the research conducted, as well as providing access to the coastal State all data and samples derived from the research, together with an assessment of such data, samples and research results (or assistance in such assessment).

As mentioned above, vessels conducting MSR have a duty under UNCLOS to comply with certain requests from the coastal State related to the research and findings. Accordingly, each request by an Australian research vessel to conduct MSR in another States waters must include:

Where applicable, data must be exchanged under the protocols of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), including but not limited to those of the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) program, Joint WMO/IOC Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM) and World Weather Watch (WWW).

Submission of Research Results and Data

Data collected within the relevant coastal State's Marine Jurisdiction is requested to be submitted with accompanying metadata to the respective repository for that dataset within six (6) months of the completion of the voyage in the relevant coastal State's Marine Jurisdiction.

Contact us

  • Marine Scientific Research Officer
    Sea Law, Environment Law and Antarctic Law Section (SEL)
    International Legal Branch
    Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
    RG Casey Building
    John McEwen Crescent
    BARTON ACT 0221
  • Email: msr@dfat.gov.au
  • Telephone: +61 (0)2 6261 3600
  • Facsimile: +61 (0)2 6112 3600