Thursday, November 17, 2005

Disputed waters

CBC reports on another challenge to a long-disputed area which we may assume to be under Canada's control - and this one is a slightly bigger issue than Hans Island:
France wants control over a large section of oil-rich seabed in the Atlantic Ocean just off Newfoundland in what would be a controversial "leapfrog" over Canadian waters, according to a newspaper report.

The proposed area of French control, contained in a document presented to an international panel, is beyond the jurisdiction of Canada's current 320-kilometre limit, says the National Post...

An author of the report outlining France's possible claim for the portion of the continental shelf said he hopes Canada will file a counterclaim for the stretch of seabed, where "strong hydrocarbon prospects abound."

"It becomes a legal, political and diplomatic issue as to whether France can leapfrog Canadian waters," said Ron Macnab, a Canadian director with the Advisory Board of the Law of the Sea...

The document argues that since being hit hard by the collapse of its fishing industry, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are testing the rights of all coastal states and their territorial waters.

It says the French possession and similar "shelf-locked states" could invoke aspects of the Law of the Sea to create "an extended continental shelf" and thus "claim their share of the common heritage of mankind."
While it's never a great position to have to be involved in a test case, it doesn't look like Canada has much choice on this one. The previous arbitration won by France would appear to put it in a fairly strong position, though I'd hope there would be some impact to the apparent fact that the challenge is an attempt to avoid the application of an already-negotiated international standard. If not, then Canada may be left absorbing a lot of environmental risk associated with French oil development. And that hardly seems the most reasonable way to handle the "common heritage of mankind".

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