Guyana submits full continental shelf claim

Guyana on Tuesday made a full submission of a claim to an extended continental shelf to the United Nations.

Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, in a release yesterday, said that Guyana’s submission contained all the relevant data pursuant to Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Guyana commissioned a desk top study in 2002 to determine from data available both here and overseas, whether the country met the basic criteria to make a claim to an extended continental shelf, which according to the provisions of Convention, can be up to a limit of 150 nautical miles from the 200 nautical mile outer limit of the exclusive economic zone of coastal States.

The continental shelf is an undersea extension of a continent which can stretch for many miles out to sea in some cases. According to Article 76 of the United Nations Con-vention on the Law of the Sea, each nation has a “continental shelf” that extends to the outer edge of its continental margin or to a distance of 200 nautical miles (nm) from its coastal baselines if the continental margin does not extend that far.

Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett

“A key objective for commissioning that desk top study was to ensure that the commissioning of other more expensive works, including seismic data gathering that could cost millions of United States dollars, would not be a costly exercise in futility,” Rodrigues-Birkett said.  “The desk top study, which was funded with the assistance of the Commonwealth Secre-tariat and conducted by Dr Galo Carrera, determined that Guyana met the criteria to claim an extended continental self,” he said.

Guyana’s submission is expected to be formally and orally presented to the Commission on Limits of the Continental Shelf at its next session in April 2012.  Given the workload of the Commis-sion,  the minister said that it will take “some years” before Guyana’s submission is examined by that body and for it to make recommendations on the outer limit of Guyana’s extended continental shelf.  “Guyana has acted in its interest and has taken action to ensure that in the future it has the legal basis to benefit from and protect its rights,” she said.

“It should be noted that, in accordance with the provisions of the Convention, Guyana’s jurisdiction in the continental shelf appurtenant to it beyond 200 nautical miles, will be restricted to the living resources that are in constant contact with the sea bed, but not those in the water column between the sea bed and its surface, as obtains in the exclusive economic zone,” the minister said.  She noted though that Guyana will, however,  have exclusive jurisdiction over the resources under the seabed-that would include any hydrocarbon or mineral deposits.

“I wish to make it clear that Guyana’s submission of a claim to an extended continental shelf has been made without any prejudice to any future delimitation of maritime boundaries with neighbouring States; Barbados, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

Last year, the Maritime Zone Act came into force which is aimed at ensuring that Guyana and Guyanese can benefit from the resources in their maritime zones and to protect their rights in and to them,  Rodrigues-Birkett noted.

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