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Published : March 02, 2013 | Author : Gayathrisankaran
Category : International Law | Total Views : 3185 | Rating :

3rd year School of excellence in Law

Delimitation of Continental Shelf

Generally continental shelf is the shallow part of sea bottom adjacent to land. Geologically, continental shelf may be defined as “The zone around the continent extending from the low water line to the depth at which there is usually a marked increase of declivity to greater depth”

Definition of continental shelf
Under Article 1 of Geneva convention on law of sea’ the continental shelf is the sea bed and sub soil of the submarine areas adjacent to the coast, but outside the area of territorial sea, to a depth of 200 meters or beyond the limit, to where the depth of 200 meters or beyond that limit, to where the depth of the superjacent waters admit of the exploitation of natural resources of the said area”

This definition was criticized on the ground that
· It has not fix any outer limit of continental shelf
· It gave room to the States to interpret the area of continental shelf according to their own convenience.

This definition was revised in UN conference of law of sea 1982. Paragraph 1 of article 76 of the convention on law of sea,1982 defines continental shelf as “ the seabed and sub –soil of the 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 baselines from which the breath of the territorial sea is measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distances .Paragraph 4(a) of Article 76 of united nation convention on law of sea ‘provides that “if the continental margin extends beyond 200 nautical miles, the coastal state can exercise jurisdiction up to 350 nautical miles or shall not exceed 100 nautical miles from the 2500 meters isolates, which is the line connection the depth of 2500 meters.”

Emergence of doctrine of continental shelf: On September 28, 1945 a proclamation was issued by the U.S president Harry s.Truman which stated natural resources of the subsoil and seabed of the continental shelf beneath the high sea of us is under the control of US. This proclamation by the U.S was the root cause for the emergence of doctrine of continental shelf. Followed by U.S many states claimed their rights in the continental shelf. In 1958 first convention on continental shelf was held in Geneva.

Analysis of principle involved in delimitation process of continental shelf
Delimitation process begins with the legal entitlement of coastal States both to their continental shelf and to their EEZ source of these entitlements proceeds from basic rule that land dominates the sea. Starting point of any delimitation is the entitlement of a State to a given maritime area.

North Sea Continental Shelf Cases
The Court then suggested three factors to be taken into account in arriving at an equitable result: (a) the general configuration of the coasts, as well as the presence of any special or unusual features; (b) The physical and geological structure, as well as the natural resources, of the continental shelf concerned; and (c) proportionality. The ICJ concluded that the application of the equidistance method was not obligatory in all given cases, pointing out as part of its main reasoning that such a method could produce an inequitable result. The Court implied that the ‘application’ of equitable principles should be carried out by ‘taking all the circumstances into account.’

When the continental shelf was beyond maritime the area of the territorial sea, such entitlement found its basis in the concept of natural prolongation

After the emergence of exclusive economic zone, new approach emerged in delimitation. Distance from the coast. Distance from the coast and natural prolongation mostly become intertwined.

Libya v Malta I.C.J. Reports 1985, p. 13).
It was held in this case that continental shelf and exclusive economic zone co existed and they are complimentary. Exclusive economic zone did not observe the continental shelf.

Role of equity must act within the law and must not be beyond the law.
At first because there was a natural reluctance on the part of courts and tribunals to give preference to those elements more closely connected to the continental shelf over those more closely related to the EEZ, or vice versa. The quest for neutral criteria of a geographical character prevailed in the end over area-specific criteria such as geomorphologic aspects or resources-specific criteria such as the distribution of fish stocks, with a very few exceptions (notably Jan Mayen)

Jan mayen case it was held that: Equidistance Special Circumstances rule formulated in Article 6 of the 1958

Convention on the Continental Shelf is not materially different from the Equitable
The principle that delimitation should avoid the encroachment by one party on the natural prolongation of the other or its equivalent in respect of the EEZ the avoidance to the extent possible of the interruption of the maritime projection of the relevant coastlines and considerations ensuring that a disproportionate outcome should be corrected are the criteria that have emerged

According to Article 74(1) and 83(1) of United Nations Convention on law of Sea delimitation of the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone must be effected by agreement valid under International law in order to achieve equitable solution. The determination of the line of delimitation normally follows a two-step approach

· First, a provisional line of equidistance is posited as a hypothesis and a practical starting point. While a convenient starting point, equidistance alone will in many circumstances not ensure an equitable result in the light of peculiarities of each specific case

· The second step accordingly requires the examination of this provisional line in the light of relevant circumstances, which are specific, so as to determine whether it is necessary to adjust the provisional equidistance line in order to achieve an equitable result.

The ICJ stated that “The equidistance/special circumstances rule, which is applicable in particular to the delimitation of the territorial sea, and the equitable principles/relevant circumstances rule, as it has been developed since 1958 in case-­law and State practice with regard to the delimitation of the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone, are closely interrelated. Name of the rule called the Equidistance-­Special Circumstances rule for a long time has been changed into the Equidistance–Relevant Circumstances rule since the 2002 Land and Maritime Boundary (Cameroon/Nigeria) case.

2 steps are modified into 3 steps. They are as follows:
· First court will establish a provisional equidistance line
· Second, it will consider whether there are factors calling of adjustments of the provisional equidistance line in order to achieve an equitable result.
· Third, it will see that line does not lead to inequitable result

Bangladesh v Myanmar 14th march 2012
This is first dispute relating to maritime delimitation decided by the international tribunal for law of sea (ITLOS).The dispute is related to delimitation of territorial sea, continental shelf and exclusive economic zone. This is the first case which involved delimitation of continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. The tribunal decided that for delimitation of territorial sea it drew equidistance line accepted by the two states. The tribunal decided in respect of delimitation of continental shelf and exclusive economic zone, a provisional equidistance line to be drawn and it must be adjusted taking in to account the concavity of Bangladesh coast. The process involved in delimitation of continental shelf and exclusive economic zone within 200 nautical miles, the same will be applied for delimitation beyond 200 nautical miles so far as the rights of the third states is not affected. Throughout the judgment the tribunal stressed that the goal of maritime delimitation was an equitable solution.

From the above analysis of various case laws and from article 74(1) and 83(1), it is clear that delimitation of continental shelf must take place with the goal in achieving equitable solution. While applying the equitable method relevant factors must be considered .each case is unique principle of delimitation will be applied depending upon facts of each case. While delimiting it must be seen that it does not lead to inequitable result to none. Therefore it is clear that equidistance method is one of the means in achieving the end i.e. equitable solution.

1. OP Sharma –The international law of the sea-oxford university press 2009

Authors contact info - articles The  author can be reached at: gayathrisankaran@legalserviceindia.com

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