23 March 2011
Commonwealth Secretariat gives assistance to the small island state to determine its maritime zones
The Commonwealth Secretariat is working with Tuvalu to determine the extent of the country’s maritime boundaries, to enable the small island state to protect its sea resources.
Through legal and technical assistance, the Secretariat will support Tuvalu’s maritime boundary negotiations in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The work is part of the Secretariat’s programme to assist Commonwealth member countries in the region to settle their unresolved maritime zones within five years.
Paul Hibberd, Legal Adviser in the Secretariat’s Maritime Boundary Programme, said: “Tuvalu is one of the smallest states in the world and is also particularly vulnerable to climate change. In order to safeguard the welfare of its people, Tuvalu needs to be certain of its maritime entitlements.
“By assisting to establish Tuvalu’s maritime boundaries and zones in accordance with international law, the Commonwealth Secretariat project will enable Tuvalu to make more informed decisions as to how it will use or conserve the resources of the sea over which it has jurisdiction.”
The Secretariat will work with specialist technical organisations active in the region, including Pacific Islands Applied GeoScience Commission, the UN Environment Programme, Grid-Arendal, Geoscience Australia and Geocap.
The Secretariat will also assess whether Tuvalu is entitled to lodge a submission to the UN under UNCLOS for additional areas of seabed, known as continental shelf, and will assist with the preparation of any resulting submission. A submission will provide the basis for the exploration, conservation and development of important natural and living resources in areas of seabed, which may include oil, gas, minerals and sedentary marine life.
UNCLOS specifies the circumstances in which coastal states may claim extended areas of continental shelf beyond the traditional 200 nautical miles limit. Pacific island countries are working together to resolve overlapping claims and develop extended continental shelf submissions to the UN.
The Secretariat is the only international organisation in the world today that provides fully funded legal and technical assistance to governments concerning the delimitation of maritime boundaries. It is presently providing assistance to some 20 Commonwealth member countries in relation to maritime boundaries issues, including extended continental shelf submissions covering over 3 million sq km of additional seabed.
The programme covers two main areas of assistance, focusing upon the establishment of maritime boundaries by member countries, and the preparation and defence of extended continental shelf submissions.