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Regional News

September 21, 2007
Maritime ruling 'very favourable'
Stabroek News

Yesterday's award by a UN tribunal on the maritime boundary between Guyana and Suriname has been described by President Bharrat Jagdeo as "very favourable" and it paves the way for renewed oil exploration as the controversial site that triggered the dispute is well within this country's waters.

Addressing the nation yesterday, President Jagdeo said that the award of the Arbitral Tribunal established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea had met all of the country's principal objectives.

Apart from establishing a single maritime boundary between Guyana and Suriname which differs from the boundaries claimed by each of the parties in their pleadings before the Arbitral Tribunal, the tribunal also found that Suriname "acted unlawfully when it expelled a drilling rig licensed by Guyana from the disputed area" in 2000.

Speaking to the nation at 4 pm on state-owned radio and television on the award at the same time as his counterpart in Suriname, Jagdeo said that Guyana, which initiated the arbitration process to settle once and for all any dispute over the maritime boundary with Suriname, "is very pleased with the judgment."

Stating that Guyana now has a definitive and permanent maritime boundary with Suriname, which Guyana considers as fair and equitable to both states, Jagdeo said that the award now "allows Guyana's licensees to resume their petroleum exploration activities in the part of the sea that Guyana has claimed, out to a distance of 200 miles from the coast, in accordance with international law.

He said that the resolution of the dispute, which is now final and binding on the parties, will allow Guyana and Suriname to put this controversy behind them, and to proceed to cooperate as good neighbours on a wide range of issues.

The President said there were six core issues in Guyana's case and he felt that they had all been met.

In the first case - upholding the rule of law, Jagdeo said that "Suriname's action on June 3, 2000 in interrupting the activities of the oil rig CE Thornton effectively prevented any further exploratory work in that maritime area - by anyone. It certainly set back Guyana's economic development."

He said that if the status quo was preserved, there would have been irreparable damage to Guyana's development. Left unchallenged, it would have undermined the purposes of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of which Guyana and Suriname are signatories.

He quoted the tribunal as stating that the expulsion of the CGX oil rig "constituted a threat of the use of force in breach of the Convention (on the Law of the Sea), the UN Charter, and general international law." It has also confirmed the rule of law in Caricom's maritime areas.

One the second core issue - fixing a maritime boundary, Jagdeo said that Guyana's resort to compulsory arbitration under the Law of the Sea Treaty came after intensive efforts to resolve this issue bilaterally failed.

Noting that Suriname did not want the maritime boundary to be established by the tribunal despite the damage a continuing maritime dispute would cause, Jagdeo said Suriname tried to prevent the tribunal from reaching a conclusion on the merits of the case by arguing that the tribunal had no jurisdiction to fix the maritime boundary, a move which lengthened the period and increased the costs of the arbitral process. The tribunal found that it had jurisdiction and established the maritime boundary placing "the matter beyond dispute."

Equidistance

On the third core issue - where the boundary is, the President noted that from the time of the establishment of the International Regime on the Law of the Sea in the 1950's, Guyana accepted the principle of equidistance - a technical term for a method of establishing an equitable maritime boundary between neighbouring states, by drawing a boundary line in the sea that is at all points equidistant from the coast lines of both states.

He said it was the most widely accepted method though there are variations in complex coastlines.

In the case of Guyana and Suriname, whose coastlines are relatively regular, the line runs in a north-easterly direction from the coast and Guyana has been guided by that.

Suriname argued for a boundary line that was more northerly and which would enlarge Suriname's maritime area.

He said, "They argued that the boundary line between Guyana and Suriname's territorial waters that was fixed in 1936 along a 10 degree north line for a distance of only three miles, because of considerations of the channel in the mouth of the Corentyne River, should be extended along the same 10 degree axis beyond the three mile limit previously agreed all the way to the 200 mile limit of the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) claim by both Guyana and Suriname. The tribunal rejected this argument, and in the area beyond three miles from the shore it has drawn the boundary in a more northeasterly direction for the remaining 197 miles, as Guyana had requested, using the principle of equidistance as its basic guide." This principle he noted was enshrined in Guyana's maritime boundaries act since 1977.

Explaining this issue in its release the UN Permanent Court release said that "the boundary for the most part follows the equidistance line between Guyana and Suriname. However, in the territorial sea, the boundary follows an N 10 degree E line from the starting point to the three nautical mile limit, and then a diagonal line, from the intersection of the N 10 degree E line and the three nautical mile limit, to the intersection of the twelve nautical mile limit and the equidistance line."

The tribunal description of the boundary reads, "The delimitation line commences at Point 1, being the intersection of the low water line of the West Bank of the Corentyne River and the geodesic line of N 10 degree E which passes through Marker "B" established in 1936.... The tribunal holds that the 10 degree line is established between the parties from the starting point to the 3 nautical mile limit. Thereafter the tribunal arrives at a line continuing from the seaward terminus of the N 10 degree E line at three nautical mile, and drawn diagonally by the shortest distance to meet the line adopted… to delimit the parties' continental shelf and exclusive economic zone."

The release said that the line adopted by the tribunal to delimit the parties' continental shelf and EEZ follows an unadjusted equidistance line.

On the fourth core issue - Guyana's sovereignty over the resources of the sea-bed, Jagdeo said that Guyana's sovereign rights to explore and exploit the hydro-carbon resources within the boundaries of the EEZ and continental shelf, once contested by Suriname, are now settled on the basis of the tribunal's award.

On the fifth core issue, he said the award has made it possible for CGX and other licensees to resume their petroleum exploration activities on the Guyana side of the equidistance line. He quoted the tribunal as saying "Guyana now has undisputed title to the area" from where the CGX rig was forcibly evicted by the Surinamese military forces.

Jagdeo said that the area lies a full 15 kilometres to the west of the boundary established by the tribunal and is well within Guyana's waters.

As the tribunal's award took immediate effect yesterday, Jagdeo said that Guyana looks forward to the prompt and successful resumption of petroleum exploration activities in the same waters.

On the sixth core issue - Guyana-Suriname relations going forward, Jagdeo reiterated that Guyana saw the proceedings "not as an adversarial process, but one to establish a sound basis for economic development in the maritime regions of both Suriname and Guyana."

Throughout the proceedings, he said Guyana conducted itself in that manner and now that the case is ended "We look to the future as a new era of cooperation with Suriname, both within Caricom and bilaterally."

Noting that he had not referred to winners and losers in the case, he felt that both countries were winners for having taken part responsibly and peacefully in the historic process and emerging with a common maritime border that puts an end to the longstanding source of tension between the two countries.

He thanked Guyana's legal team, Minister of Foreign Affairs Rudy Insanally and officers who worked tirelessly in support of the legal team and offered the appreciation of the government and people of Guyana to the members of the tribunal for the award and to the secretariat of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, for their professional, balanced and efficient performance through the proceedings.

Hand of friendship

Extending the hand of friendship to Suriname, Jagdeo said that, "it now remains for us to lay the foundation for a long future of harmonious relations and practical cooperation with our brothers and sisters in Suriname."

The award is contained in a 167-page document and includes five maps. The award comes three years and seven months after Guyana initiated arbitral proceedings after it tried in vain to resolve the maritime boundary issue with Suriname over a four-year period following the eviction of the CGX oil rig.

Shortly after the June 3, 2000 eviction Guyana's Ministry of Foreign Affairs held talks with their Surinamese counterpart in Trinidad and Tobago on June 6; more bilateral talks were held at Herdmanston in Georgetown on June 13, 2000.

On July 6, 2006 Caricom Heads of Government in Grenada affirmed the importance of settling the dispute by peaceful means; on July 14, 2000 talks resumed in Montego Bay, Jamaica under the chairmanship of then Prime Minister PJ Patterson; and on July 17, 2000 the talks folded over a failure to settle on a formula for the interim sharing of resources in the disputed area.

In January, 2001, Jagdeo proposed joint exploitation in talks with President Ronald Venetiaan in Paramaribo, and in January 2002, Jagdeo and Venetiaan signed a joint declaration to support cooperation in the exploitation of marine resources. They agreed to set up a subcommittee of the national border commission to look at the issue.

In October 2002, the border commission met in Paramaribo but then in March there was a diplomatic flap when the Suriname government wrote to its diplomatic missions and international organizations resident in Paramaribo advising them that the official map of Suriname now incorporates the New River Triangle. In June 2003 the joint border commission met in Georgetown and the talks were put on hold.

Finally in February, 25, 2004, Guyana moved to the UN to have its offshore maritime boundary with Suriname settled under the Law of the Sea Convention saying that it was fed up with years of delay tactics and aggression by Paramaribo.

Meanwhile, in a PR Newsire statement, Guyana's lead counsel, Paul Reichler, a partner in the Washington office of law firm Foley Hoag LLP, said the award fortifies the role of international tribunals in adjudicating sovereignty disputes.

He said Guyana gains sovereignty of some 12,837-square miles of the coastal waters; Suriname receives its own portion, of approximately 6,900 square miles.

"This is a hugely important win, not only in upholding Guyana's claims to its coastal waters, but in maintaining international law as a peaceful solution to resolving sovereign disputes," said Reichler. "The ruling could become an important model for settling other maritime delimitation conflicts, since the sad fact is that there are more disputed maritime claims around the world than there are settled maritime boundaries", he told PR Newswire.

An Associated Press report in the International Herald Tribune last night noted that the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the coastal area off the two countries called the Guyana-Suriname Basin may hold recoverable oil reserves of roughly 15 billion barrels and gas reserves of 42 trillion cubic feet (1.19 trillion cubic meters).

It quoted Surinamese President Ronald Venetiaan as saying his government "is delighted and relieved that the maritime dispute with Guyana has been settled."

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