“Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands on the cusp of historic milestone for extended continental shelf in the Ontong Java Plateau maritime area under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”
New York, 28 July 2016 — The Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands have been jointly working over the last decade towards securing extended continental shelf around the maritime boundaries they share in the area known as Ontong Java Plateau (OJP). This is been pursued under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which the three countries are State Parties. The three countries are referred to as Joint Delegation in this United Nations process.
The three Pacific neighbours made the final presentation this week, which lasted three days, to the Subcommission (SC) established by the Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf in March 2014, to examine the joint submission on the Ontong Java Plateau continental shelf. The final presentation concludes a major undertaking by the three States in the review of their joint submission before the Subcommission.
On July 26, 2016, the Subcommission presented a comprehensive assessment of the OJP submission to which the Joint Delegation provided a formal response on July 27. The Subcommission is scheduled to present its draft recommendations to the full Commission in August this year, and the Commission is expected to adopt the recommendations by early next year.
The OJP submission is the first joint submission in the Pacific region that has advanced to this stage of examination by the Commission. It is therefore a watershed achievement for the three Pacific neighbours. It is more remarkable that the three Pacific coastal States have demonstrated unprecedented level of unity of purpose, solidarity and commitment to work together for nearly a decade on a highly technical and scientific issue never jointly or individually undertaken before.
OJP is a massive large igneous province sitting on the continental shelves within the jurisdictions of the three countries and the nearby high sea pocket. Continental shelves are believed to be rich in natural resources — rare Earth metals, oil and petroleum, among others.
In accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the three states are entitled to establish the outer limits of their continental shelves beyond 200 nautical miles. As required by the Convention, the three States lodged the Ontong Java Plateau joint submission with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in May 2009.
Papua New Guinea, as the current leader of the Joint Delegation, through Ambassador Max Rai, who is the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, stressed in his opening statement that this week’s engagement with the United Nations Subcommission is “a monumental occasion” for us as Small Island Developing States that are also Large Ocean States with a special case for sustainable development.
He emphasized that the three states “have always considered the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as our ally and solid bedrock for our work in this historic process”. He also described this examination process as “illuminating, enriching and challenging” for the three countries, especially given their shared capacity constraints challenges.
The Federated States of Micronesia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York Ambassador Jane Chigiyal presented the three countries substantive response to the technical aspects of the Ontong Java Plateau submission. She emphasized the three countries “substantial agreement with the United Nations Subcommission views and general conclusions” including the application of the test of appurtenance and conclusions on the locations on the critical foot of the continental slope points. In effect, this means that the submarine areas of Ontong Java Plateau are connected to the landmasses of the three countries.
Ambassador Chigiyal also highlighted specific challenging areas where the Subcommission and the Joint Delegation had differing technical and legal interpretations.
Ambassador Collin Beck, who represents Solomon lslands in the United Nations in New York delivered the final part of the presentation. He conveyed the three countries appreciation to the Subcommission and the staff of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea for facilitating and engaging in a cooperative and constructive spirit the examination of the Ontong Java Plateau Submission and also commended and thanked the three countries national and external technical experts and advisers for their outstanding work in supporting them. He also underscored the importance of the examination as the three states work out the outer limits of their continental shelves.
The Subcommisison’s examination of the Ontong Java Plateau Joint Submission started in March 2014 and formally ends when it submits its draft recommendations to the full Commission after August 2016, for a final decision.
The Subcommisison and the three countries held over a dozen meetings to exchange views and assessment on the technical and other data and information concerning the Ontang Java Plateau.
Whilst then was mutual agreement between the three coastal states and the Subcommission on many of the important and key areas under examination and given the importance of the Ontong Java Plateau Submission to the three states, a substantial amount of time and resources was devoted address the most challenging technical and legal issues where the Joint Delegation and the Subcommission had divergent views. Overall, the three countries agreed that the whole examination process was very positive and constructive and are looking forward to a successful outcome.
The Joint Delegation remains committed to continue working together after the Subcommission and the Commission completes its work on the Ontong Java Plateau Submission.