Posted by: Andi Arsana | November 10, 2006

I Made Andi Arsana and Ni Made Kesuma Putri , Yogyakarta

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, where Indonesia is a party to, indicates that a coastal State may extend its continental shelf claim beyond 200 nautical miles (nm). As defined by UNCLOS, continental shelf is “the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin”. To those with outer edge of continental margin less then 200 nm, they are entitled to 200 nm of continental shelf as long as there is no dispute with third parties. Meanwhile, a coastal state wishing to claim continental shelf beyond 200 nm (hereinafter referred to as extended continental shelf, ECS) has to submit its claim to the Commission on the Limits of the continental shelf (CLCS) through the UN Secretary-General.

As stated in Article 76 of UNCLOS, there are four important points to consider in determining the outer limit of the ECS. The first two points govern technical criteria on how to delimit the outer limit of ECS. These include the criteria of sedimentary rock thickness and the distance from the foot of continental slope. Meanwhile, the last two points relate to constraints in determining the outer limit of the ECS. They state that the outer limit of the ECS must not exceed 350 nm from baseline (usually coastline) or “shall not exceed 100 nautical miles from the 2,500 meter isobath, which is a line connecting the depth of 2,500 meters.” Detail explanation of these technical procedures can be read in Article 76 of UNCLOS, which is also available online at the United Nations’ website.

Meeting of the State Parties in 2001 indicated that 14 countries meet the technical criteria to claim ECS, including Indonesia. The deadline for submission has also been extended from 16 November 2004 to 12 May 2009. To some countries, including Indonesia, this is very good news as there will be more time to prepare for the submission. On the other hand, six coastal States (parties) have submitted their claims and their documents are accessible through the website of CLCS (http://www.un.org/Depts/los/clcs_new/clcs_home.htm). Those six parties include Russia, Brazil, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Joint submission by France, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Any country can access the documents as well as respond to their claim. All responses will then be made available in the website for public access. Indonesia, once again, has not provided any response to other States’ ECS claim, not even to Australia’s as one of the nearest neighbors. Meanwhile, other countries including East Timor are very responsive to provide comments, especially to those related to their national interest. It is to us unclear, why Indonesia has not done so. There must be reasons for that.

With regard to the potency of Indonesian ECS claim, a global study of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) shows that Indonesia may possibly claim ECS for the maritime area to the west of Sumatra Island and to the south of Sumba Island. This, however, is a global study and can only be used as an initial reference. More comprehensive studies have to be carried out to find a more precise result of potency. Similarly, a study conducted by Indonesian Experts (Sutisna, et al., 2005) also highlighted the potency of Indonesian ECS claim for the maritime area to the west of Sumatra, to the south of Sumba and to the north of Papua. However, as indicated in their paper, their study needs further investigation for a more comprehensive result.

Submitting ECS claim, as indicated by CLCS, is by no mean an easy task. It requires comprehensive studies and reasonably complicated procedures for the submission to be accepted. UNCLOS says that “coastal State shall deposit with the Secretary-General of the United Nations charts and relevant information, including geodetic data, permanently describing the outer limits of its continental shelf.” This confirms that preparing ECS submission will involve hydrographic survey for data acquisition, geospatial data processing, and legal argument preparation to support technical aspects. As far as we are concerned, Indonesian government through its relevant institutions is currently conducted serious preparation including hydrographic survey for the area with ECS potency. Significant progress should have been achieved, we are sure.

With regard to its prospect, some opine that submitting ECS claim is not worth it. To them, cost it requires for preparation including field survey and document preparation is too high compared to benefit Indonesia may gain. It is wiser to spend that money for other sectors which are more important, such as health care and education. This opinion is, undoubtedly, worth considering. It is true that Indonesian government should not carelessly spend that much money for something with no good prospect. However, ECS claim is not a matter of today. It is not something that we can judge instantly whether it is beneficial or not. ECS claim is a future investment. It is not only a matter of economy and how large ocean resources can be exploited from the continental shelf but also legal existence and sovereign rights of Indonesia. ECS claim also to anticipate dispute that may occur due to ECS claim by other neighboring States.

Regardless of pros and cons, we hope Indonesian government has been thinking of this matter seriously. Let us see how we are going to extend our maritime claims.


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