A two-day ministerial meeting on “The Outer Limits of the Continental Self”, otherwise known as the National Area of the Sea Bed, ended in Abuja last weekend with the agreement to define the national ocean and sea boundaries of ECOWAS member states.
A statement issued by the ECOWAS Secretariat and copied to the GNA in Accra on Wednesday said the meeting, the first to bring together regional ministers on issues related to the outer limits of coastal States, was to evaluate the technical needs of member states, and map out strategies for effective collaboration among neighbouring states.
It was also to decide on the practical measures to be taken to respect the May 13, 2009 deadline fixed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the submission of reports by member states who are seeking to define the outer limits of the continental shelf.
As defined by the Convention, coastal states have sovereign rights in a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone with respect to natural resources and certain economic activities as well as exclusive jurisdiction over marine science research and environmental protection.
Where states claim that their continental shelf extends beyond 200 nautical miles, submissions have to be made to the UNCLOS Commission before the deadline expires on May 13, 2009 – except for Liberia which enjoys a special waiver till 2018.
The statement said the meeting noted that due to certain constraints including poor technical and financial resources as well as relevant expertise and capacity, member states were facing a great challenge in meeting the deadline.
It was therefore agreed that member states should prepare their preliminary reports and that those on the same level of preparation should make joint submissions.
The ministers also recommended that issues relating to the limits of adjacent or opposite boundaries should continue to be discussed “in a spirit of cooperation” to arrive at a definite delimitation even after the presentation of the preliminary submission.
In addition, the ministers recommended that all coastal member states could, under the framework of the preparation of preliminary information dossier on the extension of the continental shelf, officially solicit the assistance of the Norwegian Government to present their preliminary information before the deadline.
According to the statement, the ministers also agreed to hold a two-day workshop in Accra, Ghana, from February 25, 2009 for five member states – Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo – to consider technical issues regarding the preliminary submissions.
The workshop, to be organized in collaboration with Norway, would help address some unresolved cases between Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana as well as between Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire.
In attendance at the Abuja ministerial meeting were Benin, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Others present were the Deputy Minister for International Development of Norway, Mr Hakon Arald Gulbrandsen and a delegation of Norwegian specialists on the Law of the Sea.
Mr Gulbrandsen reiterated the willingness of Norway to assist ECOWAS member states in meeting the May deadline.
He stated that the planned workshop in Accra would encourage regional cooperation on the issue as well help coastal states in presenting their submissions.
The minister urged ECOWAS coastal states, which have unresolved issues of maritime delimitation between them, to make separate or joint submissions requesting the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) to make its recommendations without regard to the delimitation of boundaries between those states.
ECOWAS Commission President, Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, expressed gratitude to the Government of Norway for offering to assist member states in meeting the deadline.
He urged member states to set aside all maritime boundary disputes and jointly face the onerous task of delineating the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles, through submissions to the CLCS.