France preps ambitious grab for water rights

21st August 2006, Comments 0 comments

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21, 2006 (AFP) - Britain, France, Ireland and Spain are to launch a bid to extend their territorial waters at a UN conference on ocean rights that opens on Monday, thus grabbing precious natural resources.

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21, 2006 (AFP) - Britain, France, Ireland and Spain are to launch a bid to extend their territorial waters at a UN conference on ocean rights that opens on Monday, thus grabbing precious natural resources.

In a joint submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the four states have applied to extend their territorial waters in the Bay of Biscay and the Celtic Sea to beyond the current legal limit of 200 nautical miles.

The commission meets at United Nations headquarters in New York from Monday to September 15.

The four countries are submitting scientific proof that their continental shelf, the submerged prolongation of land territory, stretches beyond 200 nautical miles and that their territorial waters should therefore be extended.

And the stakes are high.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which came into force in 1994, each country benefits from an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) within the 200-mile boundary from their shoreline.

This means each state has exclusive rights over all natural resources within their territorial waters, including fish, oil, gas, minerals and other precious reserves found in the sea and the ocean's subsoil.

A clause in the convention stipulates that the exclusive economic zone can be extended to up to 350 nautical miles if countries can scientifically prove that their continental shelf extends beyond the 200-mile boundary.

France has the biggest exclusive economic zone in the world after the United States, which has not signed the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The submission by Britain, France, Ireland and Spain concerns a "small" zone of 80,000 square kilometres (31,000 square miles), according to Walter Roest of the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer) who will be among those presenting scientific research to back up the request.

The commission is charged with examining the validity of the four countries' request, based on scientific criteria.

This includes proving that the area is "a natural prolongation of the continental shelf, based on its shape, composition of the bedrock and shallow depth that extends far out to sea, for example off the coast of Brittany," in western France, Roest told AFP in Paris.

"We have filed a joint submission to establish the limits of our shared shelf and then we will agree among ourselves how to divide up the maritime area," he said.

Roest said he expected the UN body to rule on the scientific evidence within a year.

The scientist added that France would also file other requests concerning zones surrounding its overseas territories of the Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean, New Caledonia in the Pacific and French Guiana in Latin America.

France, whose exclusive economic zone currently covers 10.2 million square kilometres, hopes to gain an extra one million square kilometres, Roest said, adding that Paris had to move fast as all submissions must be presented by 2009.

"Today, the commission is not yet overloaded but about 60 requests could be submitted by coastal states by 2009," he said.

New Zealand, Brazil and Australia are currently preparing submissions of their own.

Many countries will be scrambling to capture as much area as possible as the economic rewards could be huge.

Countries will have exclusive rights to exploit "hydrocarbons, minerals, living species on the ocean floor and bacteria for use in biotechnology," Roest explained.

Fishing rights though will remain limited to within 200 nautical miles from the coast, he added.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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