The government of the Falkland Islands says it is unhappy about a decision by an international commission to expand Argentina's waters to include those around the UK-sovereign lands.On the other hand, there are many Argentinians who are delighted with this "ruling" though, as the UK government notes:
The decision, which is not yet final, follows a move by Argentina in 2009 to expand its maritime territory to include that of the islands, known as the Malvinas in Argentina.
The move will increase its waters in the South Atlantic Ocean by 35%.
The area is potentially rich in oil.
But the prime minister’s official spokeswoman said the UK government had not yet seen the full report, and stressed that the commission was merely an advisory body.I know there are emotional issues of national pride, etc, but there is that "oil" thing lurking in the background, isn't there?
“It’s important to note that this is an advisory committee – it makes recommendations, they are not legally binding and the commission does not have jurisdiction over sovereignty issues.
“What’s important is what do the Falkland islanders themselves think? They’ve been clear that they want to remain an overseas territory of the UK and we will still support their right to determine their own future.”
Further, underneath all of this is the issue of the rights granted to any nation under the "continental shelf." Some of this is covered nicely in this MercoPress report, "Argentina, on a UN decision expands continental shelf area by 35% to 350 miles":
This means Argentina's shelf will increase 1.7m sq km from its current 4.8m sq km, and refers to the area from the 200 miles to the shelf slope. This represents a 35% expansion of its continental shelf.You can read about the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf here:
According to reports in the Argentine media, CLCS on its 40th plenary session of last March 11, made public it had finally adopted the presentation on the shelf request, which was made back in 2009.
“We're reaffirming our sovereignty rights over the resources from our continental shelf, minerals, hydrocarbons and sedentary species”, Ms Malcorra was quoted in anticipation of Monday's official announcement at the San Martin Palace.
Attending the event will be Deputy minister Carlos Foradori, president of National Committee on the limit of the Argentine continental platform, COPLA, officers from the Navy and Coast Guard plus lawmakers.
“The demarcation of the exterior limit of the continental shelf constitutes a clear example of a State policy in which Argentina has worked professionally during twenty years with the purpose of reaffirming our presence, conservation of our resources and reaffirming our sovereignty rights over a zone politically, economically and strategically so important in the South Atlantic”, added Ms Malcorra.
This acknowledgement means the UN accept there is a dispute over the South Atlantic islands, and is “another diplomatic victory” for Argentina said Deputy minister Foradori.
However, “Argentina will not exercise these rights over territories and maritime spaces which the United Kingdom is administrating unilaterally since 1833”.
The shelf refers to the sea floor and subsoil from the 200 miles maritime zone up to the natural extension of the continental territory with a 350 miles limit.
The UN CLCS is a scientific commission made up of 21 international experts and in the case of Argentina's presentation the decision was unanimous.
The purpose of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (the Commission or CLCS) is to facilitate the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the Convention) in respect of the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles (M) from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. Under the Convention, the coastal State shall establish the outer limits of its continental shelf where it extends beyond 200 M on the basis of the recommendation of the Commission. The Commission shall make recommendations to coastal States on matters related to the establishment of those limits; its recommendations and actions shall not prejudice matters relating to the delimitation of boundaries between States with opposite or adjacent coasts.Part VI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines 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.That 200 mile limit is subject to refinement (expansion) under certain conditions:
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:So, what the CLCS has done is to find that Argentina has made its case that its continental shelf extends out past 200 miles to 350 miles in places.
(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.
Why does that matter? See Article 77:
Article77Back to the oil issue.
Rights of the coastal State over the continental shelf
1. The coastal State exercises over the continental shelf sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its natural resources.
2. The rights referred to in paragraph 1 are exclusive in the sense that if the coastal State does not explore the continental shelf or exploit its natural resources, no one may undertake these activities without the express consent of the coastal State.
3. The rights of the coastal State over the continental shelf do not depend on occupation, effective or notional, or on any express proclamation.
4. The natural resources referred to in this Part consist of the mineral and other non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil together with living organisms belonging to sedentary species, that is to say, organisms which, at the harvestable stage, either are immobile on or under the seabed or are unable to move except in constant physical contact with the seabed or the subsoil.(highlights added)
Further, this "continental shelf issue" is are playing out in the Arctic Ocean, where Russia (and others) have assert that they have "sovereign rights" over large portions of the seabed for purposes of exploration and exploitation. See the IBT's Russia submits claim over Arctic and North Pole to UN citing scientific proof from June 2015:
Russia has re-submitted its petition to the United Nations claimingOil and gas.
exclusive control over 1.2 million square kms of the Arctic sea shelf, based this time on what its foreign ministry calls "ample scientific data".
The region contains some of the world's largest untapped reserves of oil and gas besides valuable minerals. The US, Canada, Denmark and Norway have also been trying to gain control over parts of the Arctic.
This is the second time Russia has staked its claim to what it sees as its territory. Earlier in 2002, the UN rejected the bid on lack of evidence.
See also here