General — 05 February 2009 — by Adele Ramos
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) this week made a final and binding ruling in the 40-year-old dispute between Romania and Ukraine, located in southeastern Europe, over territory in the Black Sea.
In 2004, and after several rounds of failed negotiations, Romania filed the case at the UN court, asking the court to resolve the dispute over 12,000 square kilometers of sea. The task of the court was to pronounce on where the maritime boundaries of the respective countries lie.
What was at stake is the largely untapped crude oil and natural gas potential in that portion of the Black Sea. Press reports say that the area is rich with an estimated 12 million tons of oil and plenty of natural gas.
The court rendered its ruling on the Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea (Romania v. Ukraine) on Tuesday, February 2, noting that all 15 judges had ruled unanimously on the matter.
The court disagreed with Romania’s claim that the boundary delimiting the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf was established by 1949 instruments.
“There is no agreement in force between Romania and Ukraine delimiting between them the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf,” the court said.
Both Romania and Ukraine claimed an area larger than declared by the ICJ; however, the ICJ ruling was closer to Romania’s claim than to Ukraine’s.
The ruling gives Romania about 80% of the disputed area – 9,700 square kilometers of 12,000.
In deciding the case, the court applied general principles of international law, and particularly the United Nations Law of the Sea – UNCLOS.
Serpent Island (also known as Snake Island), where Greek legend says Achilles was buried, remains in the hands of Ukraine, but the court did not accept the island as an important reference point for the delimitation, despite prior agreements between the parties applying the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea principle.
The new maritime borderline was mapped (as shown) with reference to the halfway point (on sea) between the two countries.
According to the Philippine Star, the Romanian Foreign Ministry hails the ICJ decision as one that allows Romania to start direct exploitation of oil resources that have so far been “blocked,” which would help the country to reduce its energy dependence.
The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a concept adopted at the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (1982), whereby a coastal State assumes jurisdiction over the exploration and exploitation of marine resources in its adjacent section of the continental shelf, taken to be a band extending 200 miles from the shore.” (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – OECD – Glossary)
The Special Agreement between Belize and Guatemala asks the court to decide on Guatemala’s claim on not just mainland and island territories, but also maritime areas offshore Belize “…to declare the rights therein of both parties.”
The Belize Maritime Areas Act of 1992, section 7, says, with respect to the delimitation of the EEZ that “(1) Wherever the equidistance line between Belize exclusive and an adjacent State is less than 200 nautical miles from the nearest point of the baseline of the territorial sea, the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone shall be effected between Belize and the adjacent State on the basis of international law in order to achieve an equitable settlement…
And makes provision for “…any agreement with the Republic of Guatemala made pursuant to subsection (1) of this section which provides that: (a) Belize shall claim less than what it is otherwise entitled to claim under international law; or (b) the exclusive economic zone of Belize shall not extend to any specified area of the sea, seabed or subsoil… [and that] there shall be joint exploitation or participation within Belize’s exclusive economic zone.”
GOB’s stated position, before the signing of the ICJ compromis is as follows: In particular, Belize is willing to agree to forego some of its rights under the International Convention on the Law of the Sea in order to grant Guatemala permanent access to the Caribbean Sea through its own territorial sea, and to consider joint exploitation of its EEZ resources with Guatemala as part of the settlement of the dispute. The laws of Belize require that any such agreement must first be submitted to a referendum. Belize is willing to submit to procedures established by the Convention to delimit the maritime boundaries with Guatemala and Honduras if agreements cannot otherwise be reached. A mutually satisfactory solution to the maritime boundary should go a long way towards normalizing relations.

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