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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Britain and Argentina Continental Shelf claim dispute

Argentina has lodged a hostile claim at the United Nations for 660,000 square miles of the South Atlantic seabed immediately surrounding the Falkland Islands and other British overseas territories.

The formal submission, which challenges "the illegitimate British occupation of the southern archipelagos", is the latest territorial dispute to surface in the race to extend national sovereignties over the ocean floor.

Argentina's deputy foreign minister, Victorio Tacetti, presented 40 volumes of documentation to the UN commission on the limits of the continental shelf in New York this week, describing them as "11 years [of research] in defence of national sovereignty".

The United Kingdom has only a few weeks to present its rival claim for the seabed around the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands to the UN commission. A 10-year deadline for UK claims expires on 13 May.

The ambitious Argentinian claim extends as far as the Antarctic. There, the UK has already expressed an interest in the continental shelf up to 350 miles beyond the coast of its South Pole territory.

The UN convention on the law of the sea permits states to extract oil, gas and minerals from the seabed up to, and sometimes more than, 350 miles beyond their coastlines if they can demonstrate the "prolongation" of an adjoining continental shelf.

The historic Anglo-Argentinian enmity over the Falklands has been reinforced recently by the search for oil and gas reserves on the surrounding ocean floor. Two years ago Buenos Aires ended an agreement to co-operate on underwater prospecting.

Argentina has claimed Las Malvinas - its term for the Falklands - since Britain occupied them in 1833. Decades of tensions flared into war when Argentinian forces invaded in 1982. The 73-day conflict cost the lives of 649 Argentinians and 258 Britons.
In its formal UN submission, Argentina declared: "The Argentine Republic has never recognised the illegitimate British occupation of the southern archipelagos, as the presence of the United Kingdom derives from the usurpation in 1833 of a part of the Argentine national territory, which was immediately protested and never consented by Argentina."
Responding to the assertion of territorial rights, the Foreign Office in London said: "UK experts will be studying the Argentinian submission but we do not accept that there is any basis for the Argentine submission to include [claims for] the continental shelf generated by the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

"The UK government will itself be submitting data to the [commission] with respect to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands before [the deadline of] 13 May."

The effect of a British claim will be to freeze the two rival submissions, preventing either nation from exploiting the seabed beyond 200 miles from the shoreline until diplomatic agreement is reached.

Last month Gordon Brown met the Argentinian president, Cristina Kirchner, during an economic summit in Chile, and warned her that Britain would never discuss the sovereignty of the Falklands.
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