War Pursuits Intensified
The need for comprehensive maritime ownership laws came to a head
in the late 1960s, when manganese nodules were discovered on global
deep ocean floors. These nodules contained magnesium, copper, minerals
and some very valuable hard metals that were extremely useful in
the Cold War for use in missiles and rockets.
As a result, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution establishing
deep ocean resources as a benefit for all of mankind.
was the seed for the third U.N. convention on laws of the sea in
1972," said Chris Carleton, head of the Law of the Sea Division
at the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office.
conference spanned a 10-year period and included all the nations
in the U.N., including land locked countries, which were given rights
to the resources of the world's seas."
Issues such as navigation, economic zones, resources of the deep
oceans, transfer of technology and scientific research were studied,
debated and decided over the next 10 years, and by 1982 a comprehensive
set of laws was established.
Unfortunately, by the early 1990s none of the industrialized nations
had ratified the convention.
convention was originally written under the government-owned model,
which meant it was a big operation run by the U.N. through a huge
seabed authority," Carleton said. "By the 1990s that wasn't going
to work, so the U.N. had to change that aspect of the program without
changing the tenants of the convention."
The result: The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea
came into power in 1994, covering a wide array of maritime issues.
Among those issues is article 76, "Definition of the Continental
Shelf." This article requires action from coastal states to secure
maximum territorial advantage and resource potential, and provides
technical guidance in the process of claiming continental shelf
beyond 200 nautical miles if there is a "natural prolongation" of
the coastal state's landmass outside of that distance.
The section describes how the outer limit of the continental shelf
may be defined according to the position of the foot of the continental
slope and either geodetic measurements or patterns of sediment thickness
variation oceanward of the slope.
Bathymetry charts of the world's oceans margins suggest many shallow
areas of seafloor may readily constitute "natural prolongations,"
since they developed along rifted passive margins during break up.
Also, volcanic ridges, which form an intimate component of a continental
margin, and local sediment thickness anomalies, such as deltas and
fans, are likely to constitute "natural prolongations."
man first took to the seas, territorial disputes have raged over
the world's oceans. Often, maritime laws grew out of custom -- if
there were no objections to a practice then it became the norm.
Eventually, the norm became law.
changed in the 1900s, however, when the world went to war, and for
the better part of a century, officials have struggled with just
how to carve up the seas.
such as oil and gas being found in deeper waters, the struggle carried
an increasingly important price tag.
us to 1982, and the United Nations' Convention on the Law of the
Sea, a regulatory framework for the definition of rights and responsibilities
of coastal states on maritime areas that has resulted in what some
officials call among the largest legitimate land grabs in the history
of maritime space.
head of the Law of the Sea Division at the United Kingdom Hydrographic
Office, tracks the roots first to the League of Nations, which in
the early part of the century tried to deal with the subject. Nothing
much came of it -- then.
for a codification of international maritime law was again recognized
during World War II, and one of the first actions by the newly formed
United Nations was to task the International Law Commission to look
at the codification of international law in this area."
study the first U.N. conference on the law of the sea took place
in Geneva in 1958. This resulted in four conventions, two of which
-- the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone and
the Continental Shelf Convention -- recognized that states had a
right to maritime space and to explore and exploit the resources.
These conventions were the first codification of international maritime
didn't say how wide these territorial waters were, but it did legitimize
claims to a territorial sea," Carleton said. "The Continental Shelf
Convention also said a state was entitled to a seabed beyond its
shores, and the wording of the 1958 convention set that limit at
200 meters 'or as far as could be exploited.'
time the capabilities to exploit the seafloor to 200 meters didn't
exist," he added, "much less beyond that limit."
of the Game
rules of the 1982 UNCLOS, countries have 10 years following ratification
of the convention to make a claim to its extended continental shelf
via the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
145 states have ratified the agreement. The United States, which
is in the process of ratifying the agreement, is the only major
nation remaining to ratify the UNCLOS.
for claiming an extended continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles
recently was extended to 2009 for states that already have ratified
the agreement, while other nation's 10-year time clock will start
from the date of ratification.
said through mid-2004 only Russia and Brazil had filed claims with
the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The Russian
claim was still being considered by the commission, having requested
more data from the Russians and the Brazilian claim had only just
begun the process having been filed in May this year.
claims are a tremendous undertaking for countries and can cover
considerable areas," he said, "but the effort is certainly worth
it. The petroleum industry is moving ever further into deeper waters,
so the issue can have serious economic impact. In addition to oil
and gas, island states with mini-volcanoes off their shores could
have valuable molten minerals on the seafloor."
states that plan to make a claim with the commission must conduct
geological, geophysical and geomorphologic studies to support the
claim. The 21 members of the commission will then:
- Evaluate the basis
of any claim.
- Determine whether
it is in accordance with guidance provided by the U.N. Department
of the Oceans and the Law of the Sea.
- Make recommendations
to the secretary-general regarding acceptability of sovereignty
does set limits to these continental shelf claims. Carleton says
there are two cutoffs -- 350 miles from the territory sea baseline
or 100 nautical miles beyond the 2,500-meter depth contour, whichever
one is greater.
countries will be effected significantly by the continental shelf
said that the so called "broad margin states" such as the U.S.,
several states on the eastern seaboard of South America, Australia,
New Zealand and several states on the western seaboards of Europe
and Africa will be involved with this type of extended continental
impact on Antarctica could be significant as it is a very controversial
area," he said. "Antarctica has a huge continental shelf, but how
it will be claimed and developed is as yet unknown."
industrialized nations such as the United States have teams of officials
and scientists working on securing the nation's interests, but many
smaller countries don't have the resources or expertise to deal
with the necessary scientific requirements of Article 76. These
smaller countries can go to the U.N. for assistance or private organizations
established to aid with the commission requirements.
Oceanography Centre in the United Kingdom, for example, offered
a course on the requirements in Dallas during the recent AAPG annual
meeting, explaining how to make a claim for the last five years.
said officials from 47 countries have attended the Southampton session.
of claims filed with the commission will accelerate over the next
few years," he said. At the moment:
- Spain, Brazil
and Uruguay "are very close to making their claims," he
- Japan is currently
doing "a tremendous amount of work on a very complicated claim."
- The UK and
Ireland "have done most of the work in their home territories
and could file claims in the next year."
- France is
doing a good deal of work on its vast territories around the world,
some of which are in very remote places, "which makes the work
- Canada recently
ratified the convention, "so its 10-year clock has started," he
extremely important for countries to go through this process, because
20 years down the line who knows what might be discovered in the
world's oceans, and if a claim has not been filed countries could
have a great deal to lose.
have guessed 20 years ago we would be drilling for oil and gas in
10,000 feet of water today?"
too, should be aware of the implications of this issue.
need to be cognizant of the steps host governments are taking with
regard to the UNCLOS," he said, "because it could impact offshore