Statement made by Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Sri Lanka Parliament on 17 Nov. 2009
Posted on November 18th, 2009

Media Release -Public Communications Division Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sri Lanka

This is further to my initial Statement made on 04 Nov. 2009  on the question raised by Hon. Ravi Karunanayake , Member of Parliament and raised again by Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe, Leader of the Opposition on 06 Nov. 2009 seeking a statement by me on our continental shelf submission under the Law of the Sea Convention of 1982.  In this connection, I did undertake to make a formal Statement on 17 Nov. 2009. 

 Hence, Hon Speaker, I now make my Statement on the Continental Shelf Submission of Sri Lanka

 Introduction

 The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982 requires States Parties to submit geological and scientific data and other material pertaining to the establishment of the Outer Limits of the Legal Continental Shelf beyond 200 nautical miles to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.  (CLCS)

 A separate Statement of Understanding (SoU) which is contained in Annex II to the Final Act of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea recognized a special method of delimitation for the States in the Southern Part of the Bay of Bengal, taking into account the unique geological and geomorphological features of the seabed in the area.

 Sri Lanka signed the Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS Convention) on the 10th of December 1982, and ratified the same on 19 July 1994. In terms of   paragraph 8 of Article 76 of the Convention and Article 4 of Annex II of the Convention and the Technical and Scientific Guidelines of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the coastal States are required to submit their scientific and technical data to establish their legal continental shelf to the CLCS by 13th May 2009. 

 Although the initial timeline has been subsequently relaxed indefinitely by the 18th Meeting of the States Parties to the LOS Convention, in June 2008, the Inter- Ministerial Committee co-chaired by the Secretaries of the Ministries  of Foreign Affairs and Fisheries & Aquatic Resources respectively, instructed the Committee to take all necessary steps to present a full submission, as per the timeline previously envisaged, i.e. 13th May 2009, in view of the need to avoid the anticipated surge of submissions.  Therefore the Foreign Ministry was conscious of the possible overload of the  work of the CLCS  and made every effort to make a timely submission.

 Accordingly, the Inter Ministerial Committee consisting of Senior Officials of all line Ministries/Agencies, along  with international Experts from UK, New Zealand, the Netherlands, USA, Norway and the Russian Federation presented a full submission to the CLCS on 8th May 2009, well in advance of the 13th May, 2009 timeline.

 The work before the Inter-Ministerial Committee was to frame Sri Lanka’s submission in keeping with the hard won Statement of Understanding that recognized the need for a special method of delimitation for the States in the Southern Bay of Bengal. May I remind Hon. Members of the following:

 (a) Delimitation of the legal Continental Shelf of the coastal States is done according to Article 76 of the Convention, which contains the general method of delimitation based on what is known as the “Irish formula”.  This method which is based on the continental shelves off the Atlantic Coast is made applicable to all coastal States across the board. Given the special characteristics of Sri Lanka’s legal Continental Shelf in the Bay of Bengal (ie. a narrow shelf, a wide rise), Sri Lanka sought an exception from Article 76 and a special method of delimitation.

 (b)  The special method contained in the SoU was formulated taking into account, the inequity that would result to Sri Lanka in the event of the application of the “Irish formula”. More than half of the Bay of Bengal Fan would have been excluded by the “Irish Formula.” 

 I wish to quote in this regard the relevant section of Annex II of the Final Act of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea which reads as follows:

 ” The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, considering the special characteristics of a State’s continental margin where;

 (1) The average distance at which the 200 metre isobaths occurs is not more than 20 nautical miles;

(2) The greater proportion of the sedimentary rock of the continental margin lies beneath the rise; and

 “Taking into account the inequity that would result to that State from the application to its Continental Margin of Article 76 of the Convention, in that the mathematical average of the thickness of sedimentary rock along a line established at a maximum distance permissible in accordance with the provisions of para 4 (a) (i) and (ii) of that Article as representing the entire outer edge of the continental margin would not be less than 3.5 km and that more than half of the margin would be excluded thereby.”

 Recognizes that such State may, notwithstanding the provisions of article 76, establish the outer edge of its continental margin by straight lines not exceeding 60 nautical miles in length connecting fixed points, defined by latitude and longitude, at each of which the thickness of sedimentary rock is not less than 1 kilometre.”

  End of quotation

 (c )Thus in the preparation of submission, Sri Lanka team has to carefully analyse and process data to ensure the satisfaction of all the criteria in the SoU.

 Hon. Members will therefore appreciate that every effort has been made by the technical and legal Experts to ensure that the Sri Lanka submission met all the criteria required to come within the scope of application of the SoU.

 As to our bilateral negotiations with India in this regard, let me add that two countries have closely collaborated in securing the special method of delimitation for the States in the Southern Part of Bay of Bengal which is now reflected in the SoU.  Since the work commenced on Sri Lanka’s submission, five rounds of consultations have been held with India with a view to coordinating our positions in making our respective submissions to the CLCS.  India’s support would be a vital factor in invoking the applicability of the SoU, when Sri Lanka’s submission is taken up by the Commission.

 The available data show an area of overlap that would fall outside the Exclusive Economic Zones of both countries and in the Bay of Bengal sedimentary fan, in a region well to the west of Andaman and Nicobar islands of India.

 At the last round of consultations held with India in January 2009, the following understandings were reached.

 

  • To employ the Statement of Understanding in a manner in which both India and Sri Lanka would derive the maximum benefit.

 

  • To exchange cartographic maps indicating the approximate areas of claim of each party.

 

  • To agree that both sides would file their own respective submissions before the CLCS without prejudice to any future bilateral agreement on the continental margin, which will take into account all relevant issues.

 Sri Lanka and India have a track record of cooperation on this issue from the time of the Law of the Sea Conference.  It was as a result of this close cooperation that we were able to secure a special method of delimitation in the Southern part of Bay of Bengal. We will continue this close bilateral cooperation to address all issues pertaining to the application of the SoU as well as issues of bilateral boundary delimitation in relation to any areas of overlap stemming from our respective claims for extended legal continental shelves.

 Question of scheduling of submissions

 According to the Report of the Sri Lanka delegation to the 19th Meeting of the States Parties to the LOS Convention held in New York in June 2009, Sri Lanka’s Submission is likely to be taken for consideration by CLCS around 2025.

 A delay of that magnitude is certain to have a negative impact on the aims and aspirations of all developing countries, which form the majority of those affected.  Accordingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken the initiative together with like-minded States to express serious concern at the prospect of delays of more than a decade before they receive the recommendations of the CLCS, taking into account the major investment of financial and other resources already made by them in the effort to meet the terminal date of 13th May 2009.

 Sri Lanka together with similarly affected States Parties have expressed dissatisfaction at the long delay in the scheduling of hearings of the CLCS at the 19th States Parties meeting. The Sri Lanka delegation at this Meeting insisted that such a time scale is not acceptable and that other arrangements should be made to minimize serious implications that would have on the developing countries. If the above problem is to be averted, extra funding must be made available to defray the expenses of the members of the Commission. 

 Accordingly, the President of the 19th States Parties Meeting decided to appoint an open ended informal Working Group under the coordination of the Vice-President. Sri Lanka is actively participating at the Working Group Meeting which is currently taking place in the backdrop of the 64th General Assembly Session of the United Nations, with a view to having the proceedings expedited.  Sri Lanka is continuing its efforts and in order to consulting like-minded developing States with a view to finding ways and means to expedite the process.

 To summarize, let me therefore say that:

 (1)The Ministry of Foreign Affairs harnessed all resources local and foreign to ensure a timely submission notwithstanding the complex nature of the submission under the Statement of Understanding.   All efforts have been taken to assure that the submission is legally and technically sound.  The timelines envisaged were duly met and the submission was made on 08th May 2009 well in advance of the original timeline of 13th May 2009.

 (2)The delay in scheduling is entirely due to external factors, in that neither the UNCLOS nor the CLCS anticipated a large number of States to make their submissions at the same time, resulting in a surge of submissions. It must be noted that scheduling process by the Commission has nothing to do with the merits or the demerits of a submission.

 (3) This issue is now being addressed by the UN in New York.  A strong delegation has been sent out to support the PRUN and the staff of the Sri Lanka Mission in New York to actively canvass likeminded developing States and to reach an understanding on ways and means of expediting the process

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