mother humpback whale and calf underwater

“High seas” Agreement reached after almost 20 years of negotiations

Published: 08 March 2023

On 4 March 2023, 190 countries approved a landmark agreement to protect areas of the ocean beyond national jurisdiction- the agreement confirms the importance of the role of the IMO in regulating international shipping.

On 4 March, after a straight 39 hours of discussions resulting from nearly 20 years of work, 190 UN member states were able to agree on text on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Also know as the “BBNJ Treaty” or the “High Seas Agreement.”

The treaty is seen as vital to support the 30x30 pledge made by countries at the UN biodiversity conference in December 2022, to protect a third of the sea (and land) by 2030 and provides a mechanism to protect areas of the high seas.

The agreement will cover 2/3 of the global ocean and addresses:

  • the conservation and sustainable use of marine BBNJ
  • marine genetic resources, including questions on benefit-sharing (MGR)
  • Area Based Management Tools (ABMT), including marine protected areas
  • environmental impact assessments (EIA)
  • capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology (CB&TMT).

The IMO and industry associations such as the ICS have been present at the negotiations with BIMCO maintaining a watching brief on the treaty to determine any impact on shipping and our members with the approved text consolidating the role of the IMO in regulation of international shipping –and the stringent environmental, safety and security rules already applied to international shipping including the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution by ships (MARPOL) and others. The agreement includes text to confirm that it does not undermine relevant legal instruments and frameworks and relevant global, regional, subregional and sectoral bodies. Specifically, regarding Area Based Management Tools (ABMTs) the agreement promotes the adoption of relevant measures through such instruments, frameworks and bodies. Regarding environment impact assessments (EIAs) these would assessed in accordance with the requirements of other relevant legal instruments or frameworks or by relevant global, regional, subregional or sectoral bodies.

Whilst the text is now approved the potentially long process of ratification and incorporation into national law begins with the Agreement shall entering into force 120 days after the date of deposit of the 60th (sixtieth) instrument of ratification, approval, acceptance or accession.

BIMCO will continue to monitor progress on the treaty and provide updates to members. Additionally, the IMO secretariat will bring their views to our audience at a future 15+15 webinar (May 2023- Date to be confirmed).

Beverley Mackenzie


Dr. Bev Mackenzie

Head of Intergovernmental Engagement

London, United Kingdom