70 states meet continental shelf deadline
(13 May 2009)13 May marked the deadline for the 128 states which became parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) prior to 13 May 1999 to submit at least preliminary information concerning the outer limit of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).
As of 12 May, 43 states had made a total of 50 full or partial individual or joint submissions to the CLCS. 37 states had submitted preliminary information regarding their continental shelves, including ten which had already made partial submissions. A list of the states which have made submissions or provided preliminary information is available for the website of the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. The site also offers executive summaries of submissions and preliminary information documents submitted by states.
States which ratified or acceded to UNCLOS after 13 May 1999 have ten years from date on which the Convention entered into force for the state in question to make a submission or provide preliminary information to the CLCS. This means that today's deadline has little significance for the question of continental shelf rights in the Arctic Ocean. Russia and Norway made submissions to the CLCS in 2001 and 2006 respectively, while Canada and Denmark have until November 2013 and November 2014 to prepare their submissions, and the ten-year clock for the USA will only start ticking when the USA becomes a party to UNCLOS. In 2002 the CLCS asked Russia to provide additional information concerning its continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean; this information has yet to be submitted but is not subject to any deadline.
The CLCS has now made recommendations on eight out of the nine submissions made up to the end of 2007. It will be interesting to see how quickly the commission is able to respond to the large number of submissions it has received in recent months. The documentation submitted by Argentina alone reportedly comprised 40 volumes weighing a total 840 kilograms - although due to the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the UK over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the Commission will probably not be able to consider either state's submission concerning the continental shelf off those islands. It is also not entirely clear whether Argentina expects the CLCS to consider its submission to continental shelf in areas covered by the Antarctic Treaty.
(Updated 14 May 2009)