THE awarding of the country's first Research Chair in the Law of the Sea and Development in Africa will see Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) playing a key role in contributing to governments in Africa's coastal countries effectively managing the maritime zones.
This will have far-reaching implications in terms of the exploitation of resources, pollution and maritime security.
Part of the research to be carried out by NMMU marine-law expert and former head of the department of public law, Professor Patrick Vrancken – now the incumbent of the Chair funded by the Department of Science and Technology and managed by the National Research Foundation – will focus among others on the harmonisation of legislation pertaining to Africa's marine environment.
In the 1970s and 1980s, leading up to the adoption and coming into effect of the 1982 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea, marine law was heavily researched, but has since lost popularity as the world's focus shifted to other matters, like climate change, piracy and terrorism.
"There are very few researchers in this area left in this country or the rest of Africa," Vrancken said. The result had been a lack of research and reflection on this branch of the law.
Through the Chair, Vrancken will also be focusing in due course on marine tourism law, a new area of law on which he has written prolifically, gaining him a reputation as South Africa's leading authority in this area.
Vrancken was head of the department of public law at NMMU from 1996 to the end of June.
Originally from Belgium, he obtained his masters and doctoral degrees in international law (specialising in the law of the sea) at the University of Cape Town.