08 April 2011

Occupation of Chagos Complicates Continental Shelf Designation

Maldives’ push for extended continental shelf in the United Nations

Chagos Islands



The Maldives… (at the end of March) present(ed) its claim for extended continental shelf to a United Nation Committee today midst UK’s opposition to the move while a portion of the area overlaps with a claim made by Sri Lanka.

The Maldives is presenting the claims for additional 168,000 square kilometres off its Exclusive Economic Zone to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

A high level delegation led by National Security Advisor Ameen Faizal comprising Attorney General Abdulla Muizzu, Deputy Foreign Minister Haula Ahmed Didi, Brigadier General Abdulla Shamal and Major Mohamed Ibrahim of Maldives National Defence Force are in New York now, the President’s office said.

Sri Lanka has said earlier said it was ready to negotiate with the Maldives over the issue, but the UK government has expressed staunch opposition to the UN. The Maldives made the submission claiming 168,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean seabed to the UN on July 26, 2010. By then, the border between the south of Maldives and British overseas territory Diego Garcia had not been, the UK argues.

In a letter to the UN on August 9 2010, it said the Maldives’ submission “does not take full account of the 200 nautical miles Fisheries and Environment Zones of the British Indian Ocean Territory,” the UK based Guardian newspaper reported then.

Yet the Maldives in May last year protested the UK’s declaration of the “Environment Protection Zone” in Diego Garcia, when the demarcation line between southern Maldives and Diego Garcia has not yet been established.

According to the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea, each country can claim 200 nautical miles off their coast.

“However, between Addu Atoll and Diego Garcia there are 300 miles, meaning obtaining 200 miles for both cannot be done, then Foreign Minister Dr. Ahmed Shaheed was quoted as saying in Miadhu last year.

However, according to the Convention, in such situations the ocean in between will not have to be divided equally, if one of the country is not a permanently inhabited territory.

With Diego Garcia being a military base, the Maldives will get its full 200 nautical miles and the other will get the rest, Dr. Shaheed pointed out then.

The native population of Chagos Islands were expelled 40 years ago to establish the US airbase on the largest atoll of the archipelago, Diego Garcia, a British territory.

Midst the UK- Maldives tug of war over extended seabed, Chagossians remain the real victims, who lost their native land to a military base, and now set to lose their right to sea as well.

They have been denied entry into their islands by the UK despite many appeals.

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