Kenya to acquire 150 nautical miles of Indian Ocean in new ‘scramble’

Monday May 11 2009

The extended continental shelf has potential

The extended continental shelf has potential deposits of petroleum, gas, iron-manganese, sulphides and placer deposits 

By JULIUS BOSIRE

Kenya is poised to acquire an additional 103,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean following an application to the United Nations, in what is being dubbed “the second and last scramble for the world.”

Having applied before the deadline of May 13, Kenya will be joining other African nations with similar ambitions who stand to gain additional territory beyond their stipulated 12-nautical-mile territorial waters.

Kenya entered its submissions on May 6, and is awaiting a response from the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on when it should defend its application.

The Commission responded after receiving Kenya’s application: “The consideration of the submission made by Kenya will be included in the provisional agenda of the twenty-fourth session of the Commission to be held in New York from August 10 to September 11, 2009.”

The submission aims to delineate the outer limits of Kenya’s continental shelf outside the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), so as to claim the right to explore and exploit non-living and mineral resources on the seabed and sub-soil of the extended continental shelf adjacent to the EEZ in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The anticipated benefits for Kenya, if the sovereignty is granted, will include exclusive rights to exploit the resources of this area, providing revenue for the government and employment for its citizens.

The potential resources of the extended continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles include petroleum and gas, iron-manganese nodules and crusts (manganese, copper, cobalt and nickel), polymetallic sulphides, and placer deposits. Others are phosphorite deposits, methane and biomedical resources.

In the EEZ area, coastal states exercise sovereign rights for the purpose of exploration and exploitation of resources, conservation and management of natural resources, marine scientific research protection and preservation of marine environment and the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures like laying of cables and pipelines.

By Friday, Kenya’s maritime neighbour Tanzania had not entered any submission, although nations were allowed to enter preliminary data awaiting comprehensive submissions, if they lack the resources to make full application. The submission, according to sources, cost the government of Kenya some Ksh700 million (about $9 million).

Contacted by The EastAfrican, the Acting Director of Environment in the Vice President’s office, Esther Makwaia, said Tanzania was in the process of submitting its application and hoped to meet the deadline.

Tanzania is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Nations that do not meet the deadline will relinquish their rights to anything outside their 12-nautical-mile territorial waters and an additional 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone — areas automatically allowed by law.

The government of the United Republic of Tanzania and the government of the Kingdom of Norway on June 17, 2008, signed a two-year agreement to provide funds for a Delineation of the Continental Shelf project. Norway pledged to assist Tanzania with a total amount of $4.6 million.

Kenya entered its submission as the fourth African nation after the Seychelles, Ghana and South Africa.

One of the three joint secretaries of a task force mandated by the government of Kenya in May 2006 to prepare documents for the submission to the UN, Robert Kibiwot, told The EastAfrican in Nairobi that the document prepared was in line with the requirements of the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The report is expected to be handed over to President Mwai Kibaki by July 30 and will be implemented by January 2010, once the relevant modalities have been put in place, said Kenya’s Fisheries Minister, Dr Paul Otuoma.

The task force was working on a report required to grant Kenya an additional 150 nautical miles of the ocean in addition to the current 200 nautical miles, which is the equivalent of 142,000 square kilometres.

The UN website says: “On May 6, 2009, the Republic of Kenya submitted to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, in accordance with Article 76, paragraph 8, of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, information on the limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.”

Other African countries that had made their submissions by Friday were a joint venture by the Republic of Mauritius and the Republic of Seychelles in the region of the Mascarene Plateau. The others are Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius and Nigeria.

The African nations that have made preliminary submissions are Togo, Benin, Somalia and Gambia.

Tanzania, Mozambique, Congo and Gabon had not made their submissions to the UN by Friday.

After the scramble for the sea, the status of the successful nations will change from “coastal states” to “ocean states.”

The UN Commission is set up under the convention and will take over whatever ocean space the states do not claim by the expiry of the date.

The Commission is an inter-governmental body based in Kingston, Jamaica, was established to organise and control all mineral-related activities on the international seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

It is an autonomous organisation with a relationship agreement with the United Nations. Kenya’s Attorney General Amos Wako was the authority’s president in 1997 and 1998.

States were required to come up with policies and strategies that could position the country to optimally benefit from the ocean space.

The first nation to enter submissions for the extension of its water boundaries was Russia on December 20, 2001, followed by Brazil on May 17, 2004, Australia on November 15, 2004, and Ireland on May 25, 2005.

Dr Otuoma said Kenya stood to benefit from resources both living and mineral, shipping and environmental conservation, as well as fighting the recent menace of piracy.

Multinational trawlers fishing in the high seas will need to seek authority from the relevant “ocean state” for any activities they wish to carry out in its waters, the minister said.

Surveillance will limit the operations of pirates in the region as the sea states will embark on managing the areas they have asked for, said Dr Otuoma.

In 2005, Kenya set up a task force headed by lawyer Juster Nkoroi to prepare the report required by the United Nations staking a sovereign claim on its continental shelf.

A continental shelf is the area covered by water surrounding nearly all continents, which is relatively shallow, being dozens of metres deep as compared with the thousands of metres deep open ocean, and extends outward to the continental slope where the deep ocean begins. The continental shelf could comtain huge deposits of gold or oil.

Sediment from the erosion of land surfaces, washed into the sea by rivers and waves, nourishes microscopic plants and animals. Larger animals then feed upon them. These larger animals include the great schools of fish, such as tuna, menhaden, cod and mackerel, which are caught for food.

The continental shelf regions also contain the majority of plants and animals that live on the ocean floor.

The continental slope connects the continental shelf and the oceanic crust. It begins at the continental shelf break, where the bottom sharply drops off into a steep slope. It usually begins at 130 metres depth and can be up to 20 kilometres wide.

Additional reporting by Mike Mande