Published 30 August 2017
This study investigates whether non-state actors, particularly private oil companies, possess any international rights and obligations while operating in contested waters. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides certain rules that regulate the behaviour of states amid maritime disputes. Yet, it is unclear whether these rules extend to private corporations present in disputed maritime areas. An analysis of UNCLOS and the relevant case law reveals that the rights and obligations of private actors in contested waters are not conferred on them directly by international law of the sea. Rather, these attributes are derivative as they emerge from the authorizing states’ domestic laws. Hence, in contrast to states, which are direct subjects of international law of the sea, non-state actors are mere objects thereof. The fact that non-state actors are ‘invisible’ in the eyes of UNCLOS means that they cannot be held liable for breaching international law of the sea while operating in contested waters. But at the same time, the fact that they possess no international rights deprives non-state actors of the capacity to protect their interests under the judicial procedures of the law of the sea.