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Lanka ready to make massive seabed claim


Papers to be filed with UN Continental Shelf Commission before April deadline

Sri Lanka is now busy preparing its case to demand 23 times its current size from the continental shelf of the Southern Bengal Fan, with an eye on exploiting the vast seabed resources in the newly claimed area in the future, authoritative sources said yesterday.

The enhanced area to be claimed, The Nation reliably understands, extends eastward to the north-south undersea ridge lying at the 90th parallel and in the south it would extend some 700 miles from the southern coast.

Early this week Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona was in the Netherlands on a brainstorming session with a team of international legal experts to prepare our case. They had been assisted by two top Sri Lankans in the field, Dr. Hiran Jayawardene and former Ambassador Chris Pinto, both of whom had come on board, purely on a voluntary basis to help the country achieve the objective.

Sources said Sri Lanka was primarily eyeing the oil and gas reserves in the area as well as huge mineral deposits and especially magnesium nodules that were found by a Soviet research project as far back as 1970.

The deadline for filing any claim for enhanced continental shelf is April next year with the UN Continental Shelf Commission as decided by it when it concluded its sittings in 1992.

Sources said Sri Lanka appears to have a very strong case considering the fact that there are no adjacent or opposite states to put forth competing claims from the area being sought.

The UN Convention on Law of the Sea 111 defined the continental shelf as the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond a coastal state’s territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to (a) the outer edge of the continental margin (i.e., the shelf, slope, and rise), or (b) a distance of 200 nautical miles from its territorial sea baselines, where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance.

In order to accommodate the special interest of states such as Sri Lanka, bordering the Bay of Bengal, UNCLOS 111 adopted a special statement of understanding which enables Sri Lanka and other states to claim an outer margin.

By Rohan Abeywardena ~ The Nation ~


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