Continental Shelf & Cobalt Exploration Conflict

India's Exploration Plans Clash with Sri Lanka's Continental Shelf Claim

by Zulfick Farzan 10-07-2024 | 10:07 AM

COLOMBO (News 1st); The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka has shifted its focus to media reports concerning the country's continental shelf submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) in New York and the activities of the International Seabed Authority (ISBA) in Jamaica regarding the exploration of cobalt-rich crust in the "Afanasy Nikitin Seamount." 

In a statement, the Ministry recalled the entitlement of all coastal States, under Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to claim an extended continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). 

It highlighted that as a coastal State, Sri Lanka meticulously presented technical and scientific data to the UNCLCS on May 8, 2009, to define the outer limits of its continental shelf using a special method outlined in the Statement of Understanding (SoU) for States in the Southern part of the Bay of Bengal.

Since the appointment of a Subcommission by the UNCLCS to review Sri Lanka's submission in October 2016, multiple discussions had occurred between the Subcommission and the Sri Lankan delegation. 

Nevertheless, the UNCLCS has not yet made recommendations on the submission due to a request from India for a review concerning the area claimed by Sri Lanka, which has put the consideration on hold. Sri Lanka is navigating this delay through diplomatic channels.

Separately, India has submitted an application to the ISBA in Kingston, Jamaica, seeking approval for the exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts at the Afanasy Nikitin Seamount. 

With this exploration area overlapping Sri Lanka's claimed continental shelf, Sri Lanka has notified the ISBA about these concerns and requested to postpone the approval until the completion of the UNCLCS process on its submission. The ISBA is presently following the applicable procedures. 

Currently, both matters are in progress before the UNCLCS and the ISBA, distinct United Nations entities set up to execute respective UNCLOS provisions. 

The Ministry addressed recent speculations in the public domain regarding the ceding of Sri Lanka's sovereign rights relating to these issues, clarifying that these are not based on the actual situation.