Newsflash
Implications of claiming an extended continental shelf
Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Masio Nidung, an Executive member of PIMLA has been representing PNG at recent meetings arranged by SOPAC on maritime claims by states of an extended continental shelf. Her expertise on this aspect of international maritime law in relation to the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982 is an added advantage to some of the maritime legal matters that PIMLA as a body can assist PICTs to implement.

PIMLA Executive member Masio Nidung and PIMLA Chair Silipa Kubuabola
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And according to Masio Nidung there are six (6) member countries of SOPAC which have the potential to claim an extended continental shelf having completed their respective desktop studies recently. The countries  are:
• Fiji
• Tonga
• Solomon Islands
• Papua New Guinea
• Federated States of Micronesia
• Palau

Out of the six Pacific Island Countries preparing their claims only FSM and Palau do not seem to have trained international maritime lawyers and members of PIMLA. It is important to have proper legal advice on matters of national importance as it touches on national jurisdiction and sovereignty of states.

A high level colloquium was held by SOPAC which brought high level officials to Brisbane, Australia in February 2007 from five countries with the exception of Palau, to discuss and map the strategy as a way forward to meet the UN deadline of 13 May 2009.

The completion of desk studies for each country means that they now know their respective areas of claim for extended continental shelf. There is a UN deadline for those countries that ratified UNCLOS from their respective dates of ratification to a timeframe of 10 years. For many countries this deadline has been extended to 2009 because many countries did not achieve the initial 10-year deadline.

The challenges are that the claim must be based on a scientific and technical criteria set down in Article 76 of UNCLOS as described below:

Article 76
Definition of the continental shelf

1. The continental shelf of a coastal State comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance.
2. The continental shelf of a coastal State shall not extend beyond the limits provided for in paragraphs 4 to 6.
3. The continental margin comprises the submerged prolongation of the land mass of the coastal State, and consists of the seabed and subsoil of the shelf, the slope and the rise.  It does not include the deep ocean floor with its oceanic ridges or the subsoil thereof.
4. (a) For the purposes of this Convention, the coastal State shall establish the outer edge of the continental margin wherever the margin extends beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured, by either:
 (i) a line delineated in accordance with paragraph 7 by reference to the outermost fixed points at each of which the thickness of sedimentary rocks is at least 1 per cent of the shortest distance from such point to the foot of the continental slope; or
 (ii) a line delineated in accordance with paragraph 7 by reference to fixed points not more than 60 nautical miles from the foot of the continental slope.
(b) In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the foot of the continental slope shall be determined as the point of maximum change in the gradient at its base.
5. The fixed points comprising the line of the outer limits of the continental shelf on the seabed, drawn in accordance with paragraph 4 (a)(i) and (ii), either shall not exceed 350 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured or shall not exceed 100 nautical miles from the 2,500 metre isobath, which is a line connecting the depth of 2,500 metres.
6. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 5, on submarine ridges, the outer limit of the continental shelf shall not exceed 350 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.  This paragraph does not apply to submarine elevations that are natural components of the continental margin, such as its plateaux, rises, caps, banks and spurs.
7. The coastal State shall delineate the outer limits of its continental shelf, where that shelf extends beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured, by straight lines not exceeding 60 nautical miles in length, connecting fixed points, defined by coordinates of latitude and longitude.
8. Information on the limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured shall be submitted by the coastal State to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf set up under Annex II on the basis of equitable geographical representation.  The Commission shall make recommendations to coastal States on matters related to the establishment of the outer limits of their continental shelf.  The limits of the shelf established by a coastal State on the basis of these recommendations shall be final and binding.
9. The coastal State shall deposit with the Secretary General of the United Nations charts and relevant information, including geodetic data, permanently describing the outer limits of its continental shelf.  The Secretary General shall give due publicity thereto.
10. The provisions of this article are without prejudice to the question of delimitation of the continental shelf between States with opposite or adjacent coasts.

Accordingly, the criteria under Article 76 are very technical in nature especially for data acquisition to form the basis of justification to making claims.

The data acquisition process would involve ship time therefore funding or budgeting for funds within their countries are critical for many island countries. This is an obvious challenge as time is not on our side. The issue of joint submissions or agreements may also be a challenge for countries which share maritime sea borders. At least it is expected that the technical work programmes must be completed by the end of 2007 to give time to countries to prepare their respective submissions, undertake reviews and negotiations with neighboring countries by 2008.

Countries are required to finalise their submissions to the UN Commission on Extended Continental Shelf Commission by 12 May 2009.

(Article provided by Masio Nidung)

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 13 June 2007 )
 
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