Bill to cover gaps in maritime zones law sent to select committee

The Maritime Zones Bill 2009, which is intended to address some of the shortcomings in the Maritime Boundaries Act of 1977 and elaborates on the Continental Shelf and other areas, was on Thursday sent to a special select committee.

Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett
Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett

After being read for a second time, the piece of legislation was sent for further deliberations following requests from opposition parties.
The Alliance For Change (AFC) and GAP/ROAR had written to Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett requesting that the bill be sent to a select committee given the importance of the legislation. Previously, the main opposition, the PNCR-1G, had written to PPP/C MP Gail Teixeira with a similar request.

The party was, however, absent from Thursday’s sitting; boycotting for the second consecutive week.  Rodrigues-Birkett chided the PNCR for its absence and stated that the party should have been present to publicly state its position on the Bill.

AFC Leader Raphael Trotman told the House that the issues were of national importance and serious enough to warrant the participation of his party.  According to him, “the issues have grave ramifications for both domestic and international legal and other concerns.”

The foreign minister said the piece of legislation is one of several brought to the House in recent times “to replace and update outdated and archaic laws with modern laws.”  She stated that several years ago, as the country attempted to safeguard its rights in the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, it became apparent that the legislation relating to rights and obligations pursuant to the provisions of the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea, needed to be updated.

Rodrigues-Birkett noted that the current Maritime Boundaries Act has been in existence since 1977 and pre-dates the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which came into existence in 1982.

She said the bill was imperative if Guyana is to safeguard its rights.
Rodrigues-Birkett said that in addition to the implementation of UNCLOS, the new act will enable Guyana to meet international obligations and secure rights under any of the other agreements regarding UNCLOS, which the country is a party to or will become a party to.

The bill “attempts to address all issues related to the maritime zones within which Guyana’s jurisdiction is to be respected and the conditions for the creation of these zones,” the minister said. She pointed out that the bill addresses more than simply boundaries hence the change of the name of the bill; replacing the word boundaries with zones. She also explained that the bill excludes the issue of fishery zones relative to the exclusive economic zone and this is governed by the Fisheries Act.

Addressed in the bill, are maritime zones and issues such as the territorial sea, internal waters, innocent passage, the contiguous zone, the continental shelf, the exclusive economic zone, delimitation of maritime boundaries, charts and geographical coordinates, marine scientific research and maritime cultural areas. It also addresses eco-tourism, marine parks and reserves and mariculture and the protection and preservation of the marine environment.

Significantly, Clause 35 of the bill provides that “delimitation of the boundaries of the territorial seas between any state opposite or adjacent to Guyana shall be by agreement between Guyana and that state and failing agreement, neither of the two states is entitled to extend its territorial seas beyond the median line.”  Every point of this median line is “equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two states is measured.” However, “where it is necessary by reason of historic title or other special circumstances to delimit the territorial sea of Guyana and that other state in a way which is at variance with this method, the method shall not apply.”

Under clause 36, “delimitation of the boundaries of the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone between any state opposite or adjacent to Guyana shall be by agreement between Guyana and that state on the basis of international law, as referred to in Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, in order to achieve an equitable solution.” Clause 37 provides for the settlement of disputes according to Part XV of the Convention (UNCLOS), if no agreement on delimitation can be reached.

The bill also addresses Guyana’s right to regulate with respect to underwater cultural heritage, enabling it to clearly claim ownership of cultural maritime heritage, historic wrecks and objects of archaeological value.

Transport and Hydraulics Minister Robeson Benn opined that the bill presented “a comprehensive framework which takes care of all the aspects in bringing our issues in the maritime zone”. He further stated that the bill will make the country more secure on both sides of our borders to the west and east in the maritime space with regard to the exploitation of mineral resources.

Benn also said that the bill will ensure that sanctions, when applied, will be done in a judicious manner.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds said that the bill was important and in some aspects served to address technological advancements. Speaking about the impact that the bill would have on the Guyana Geology and Mines Commis-sion (GGMC), he noted that the extension of the continental shelf would be extremely beneficial to this body.

Culture Minister Dr Frank Anthony also spoke on the bill and he commended it as a positive development which could be a boost to the cultural resources of the country.

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