Posted by: Andi Arsana | July 11, 2008

Indonesia confirming its extended continental shelf

While working seriously on the establishment of maritime boundaries with its neighbors, Indonesia is also, confirming its extended continental shelf (ECS). According to Article 76 of the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Indonesia, being a coastal state, is entitled to continental shelf (seabed) beyond 200 nautical miles (M) from its baselines. For this purpose, a coastal state should delineate the outer limits of its continental shelf and make a submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) through the UN Secretary General. Indonesia made a submission on 16 June 2008 and CLCS will subsequently consider the submission and provide recommendations.

Commonly, the delineation process is also recognized as ‘extending maritime claim’, which is not necessary the case. Indonesia is not extending its maritime area, but only confirming its outer limits beyond 200 M. For continental shelf, a coastal state secures sovereign rights for exploration and exploitation, which “do not depend on occupation, effective or notional, or on any express proclamation.” (UNCLOS, Article 77)

Indonesia is the twelfth state that submits its ECS after the first submission made by the Russian Federation in 2001. Approaching the deadline of submission on 13 May 2009 for those who ratified UNCLOS before 13 may 1999, many more submissions are coming to the desk of CLCS in New York. Executive summaries of all submissions are available on the website of CLCS for all other states to respond.

After a long preparation, Indonesia finally submitted its ECS to the UN for the area to the north-west of Sumatra. As indicated, it was a partial submission, meaning that Indonesia is planning to make other submissions in the near future. It is anticipated that two more submissions will be made before 13 May 2009: south of Nusa Tenggara and north of Papua. Indonesian team for ECS is now working on technical and non-technical aspects for the two, which require a lot of resources.

With regards to submission deadline, the latest Meeting of States Parties to UNCLOS decided that a coastal state may submit “preliminary information indicative of the outer limits of the continental shelf” together with “a description of the status of preparation and intended date of making a submission” (SPLOS/183). This confirms that a coastal state does not have to provide all supporting data and documents by the deadline (13 May 2009) but instead, can provide preliminary submission or even an indication of submission. All supporting data and documents can be provided at a later time. In this case, the original deadline does not change but the requirement of submission is significantly easier.

Indonesia’s submission is the first one made by Asian states and is considered as one of the earliest submissions by developing states. To some extents, the submission can be a good influence for other developing states, which are struggling with technical and financial difficulties. No matter what CLCS’ response will be, Indonesia’s submission deserves appreciation and is a sign of hope in desperation among developing states.

With regards to Indonesia’s submission, one important issue that may raise is the area of ECS submitted. It proposes an ECS of 3915 km², which roughly equals the large of Madura Island. From a sovereign rights perspective, where Indonesia can only utilize natural resources and does not have full sovereignty, such area may seem insignificant. It can easily spark question, why would Indonesia claim such a small area after spending a lot of resources for preparation that took around ten years to accomplish?

To understand the situation, one should know how complicated it is to establish the outer limits of ECS. Article 76 specifies complicated procedure that involves bathymetric and seismic survey (CLCS/11). Even though desktop study might helps in the preliminary process, the real ECS can never be known without real surveys. Technical survey, which is expensive, is required to know precisely whether Indonesia can have ECS. Therefore, after a complicated and expensive process, the size of claim should not stop Indonesia from making a submission. In addition, the current submission is only one of the total three potential submissions.

Furthermore, ECS is a future investment. Prescott (2008), an internationally-renowned maritime boundary expert, states that “we must take the long view”. At present, we might not know what lies beneath, but we can always expect something precious in the future. Furthermore, this is a good opportunity for Indonesia to confirm its sovereign rights as it will be final and binding, once the delineation is made on the basis of CLCS’ recommendation. If it is not now, Indonesia may lose the opportunity.

What can Indonesia expect from the extension? No detailed research has been done to the proposed area so that it is too early to judge. However, in theory, there are a lot of potential resources in and on the seabed, both living and non living. Oil and gas are two traditional resources that can be explored. Furthermore, the deep seabed is unique environment where organisms with special characteristics live. The behavior, process and activities they demonstrate can be subjects of researches that may be useful for human being. In short, a coastal state can make use of any living and non-living organisms that live on (attached) or under the surface of the seabed.

To sum up, the submission of ECS by Indonesia is good news for other developing states, which are currently preparing their submissions. It can also be a positive motivation, to an extent. It also brings hopes for Indonesia in the future for any potential resources to harvest. However, we can not hold our breath since there is still a long way before CLCS can make recommendation on the submission. Let us hope for good result.


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