September 5, 2008, 10:35 am
New Zealand could be on the verge of winning a territorial and economic bonanza, with word due any day on a claim to 1.6 million square kilometres of continental shelf.
The claim was lodged with the United Nations Law of the Sea Commission two years ago after a 10-year $44 million research project to work out the limits of the shelf.
If successful, New Zealand would gain jurisdiction over an area of seabed six times the size of its landmass, giving it control of potentially enormous mineral resources that lie on or under the seabed beyond the existing 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
It includes a large area in the Tasman called Lord Howe Rise, a block extending north into the Pacific Ocean towards Tonga and Fiji, an area skirting the Chathams Rise to the east, and additional areas to the far south.
Foreign Affairs Ministry legal adviser Gerard van Bohemen told The Dominion Post newspaper the commission was believed to have made its decision, and the ministry expected to hear any day.
Even with a favourable ruling, agreements on New Zealand shelf boundaries still had to be reached with Fiji and Tonga.
Undersea boundaries in the Tasman Sea and the southern oceans were agreed with Australia four years ago.
GNS Science ocean exploration chief Ray Wood said securing the shelf would be a huge benefit for New Zealand .
There could be large oil deposits on the Lord Howe and Chatham rises, gold and other valuable mineral deposits on the Three Kings Ridge to the north of New Zealand , and manganese nodules worth billions in the southern parts of the shelf.
"The real challenge for us now is to work out what we have and how we use it in the future," Dr Wood said.
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