The National Ocean Affairs Committee, (NOAC) says Sri Lanka is not in dispute with India to refer any matter pertaining to the oceans to ITLOS, which is a body set up within the UN for resolution of disputes.
Chris Dharmakirti, Chairman of the National Ocean Affairs Committee, said that at the present moment, only Bangladesh, Myanmar and India have declared disputes in the Bay of Bengal basin, and the resolution of those disputes have been brought before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), and Sri Lanka is not a party cited in those disputes.
According to Dharmakirti, Sri Lanka does have an overlapping claim in the Bay of Bengal with India and Myanmar, but that is not in dispute at the present time.
“We have filed our claim before the UN Commission that is set up to examine Continental Shelf Margin claims, which is entirely a different and separate body to ITLOS. It is called the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). All three nations have filed their claims separately with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) set up under UNCLOS, which is a different UN body to ITLOS,” he explained.
He further clarified that the CLCS under UNCLOS, is a dedicated Commission comprised of ocean scientists and geo science experts nominated by States parties to the UN Law of the Sea Convention, who are required to examine each coastal nation’s claim and determine them. Whilst ITLOS is a body comprised of legal experts on the law of the sea, whose role an task is to interpret the UNCLOS convention and other international maritime treaty provisions including customary international law when a dispute arises.
“Whilst UNCLOS determines the scientific acceptability of the extended continental shelf area as determined by each coastal state using seismic and bathymetric data, ITLOS is a dispute settlement mechanism, that only comes into the picture, when a two or more states have a dispute,” he further explained.
Although Sri Lanka and India did at a very early stage, seven years ago, at a track two discussion did contemplate a joint submission to the Commission (UNCLOS) using the statement of understanding provisions in Annex 11 of the convention, for the overlapping areas, the decision to file separate claims, independently, has not prejudiced either party, and has been done with both India and Sri Lanka issuing separate note verbales to the UN stating that both countries are filing their claims without prejudice or objections to the other.
“We have a very good understanding on this with India, and in fact in 2009, after both our countries filed our separate submissions to UNCLOS, we got together in New York to jointly draft and submit a special resolution calling upon the UN Secretary General to allocate more resources to the Commission and to take steps to expedite the submission hearings and process,” Dharmakirti explained.
As a direct result of that joint initiative which also had the support of Japan, China, Brazil, EU and even the US delegates at the UN, in 2012, the UN secretary general did allocate more financial resources and expedited the UN Commission on the Law of the Sea sittings from six weeks each year to 26 weeks, a 400% improvement in the processing time of the claims made by each coastal state.
“India is behind us in the queue, and we are slotted as the 43rd country in that long line of nations awaiting the examination of our submission by the UN Commission, and although previously both India and us would have had our claims only heard in 2028, with the expedited process,we could hopefully have ours examined as early as 2018,” the Chairman elaborated.
In addition to India, Myanmar and Bangladesh, the Maldives Islands also have an overlapping seabed area with Sri Lanka. According to Mr. Dharmakirti, it is the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka to explore the cooperative mechanisms to handle the shared, overlapping areas of claims in the seabed. “There are enough examples from around the world for Sri Lanka and her neighboring coastal states in the Bay of Bengal to put in place a Joint Ownership Commission or a Shared Resource Development mechanism to handle the valuable mineral and hydro carbon resources that the nations in the region are destined to own jointly, ” Dharmakirti pointed out.
“We have to first get our claim for the extended continental shelf validated and recognized by the UN CLCS first, before we progress next to the next stage of contemplating how we would work out the sharing mechanisms, or indeed, if no agreement is reached, dispute resolution options, ” he concluded. (Colombo Gazette)
Report by Easwaran Rutnam