Britain has yet to decide whether it will claim Antarctic territory sea bed but the UK remains and will remain fully committed to environmental protection of Antarctica, following on the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty one of the great successes of international relations in the last fifty years, said British Ambassador in Argentina John Hughes.
In an article titled "Antarctic Limits", published in Wednesday's edition of La Nacion, Ambassador Hughes points out that there are "some confusions" regarding several countries activities to establish the outer limits of the Antarctic continental shelf which have been undertaken according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and which "do not impair or contravene in the least the Antarctic Treaty". The continental platform limits' issue and the technical preparations to make presentations before United Nations, writes Ambassador Hughes, "have been informally addressed by the interested countries, among which UK, Argentina and Chile. Two other countries with Antarctic interests, Australia and New Zealand, have already done their respective presentations". However Ambassador Hughes also mentions the need to clear "another confusion" between the possible presentation of the UK claim offshore Antarctica and the surveying the UK is undertaking on the Falkland and South Georgia Islands continental shelf. "Although it's all part of the same process in the framework of the UN, presentations are in no way related since they refer to different territories and different submarine geological characteristics". Why the presentations? To ensure the materialization of the framework foreseen by the Convention of the Law of the Sea which, as the Antarctic Treaty, also is a major success ratified by 155 countries, points out HM Ambassador. The British government has not yet adopted any decision on the presentation regarding the British Antarctic Territory, but will announce its position before the end of the deadline in 2009. What remains and will remain permanent is the UK commitment to ensure the highest levels of environmental protection in Antarctica, writes Ambassador Hughes. One of the great achievements of the Antarctic Treaty was in 1991, the incorporation of the Environmental Protocol of the Treaty. This instrument bans all activities related to mineral resources, among them gas and oil, unless they are related to scientific research. Any change to this ban would have to be agreed by all participant states and would require, in first place, the adoption of a linking agreement which would determine if those activities are accepted and under which conditions. Mr. Hughes argues that the success of the Antarctic Treaty has been the willingness of its members to leave sovereignty differences aside and to cooperate in issues of common interest, mainly scientific research and sustainable management of natural resources. He mentions the Treaty has 46 signatory states, including UK and Argentina, plus five other countries with Antarctic claims and underlines as some of the great achievements of the treaty the rigorous fisheries management and the special commitment to essential research to help understand the impact of global climate change. As well as ensuring that tourist activity in Antarctica is safe and environmentally sustainable. The ambassador mentions the recent rescue of the passengers and crew of the MV Explorer as an example of cooperation which proved the capacity and professionalism of the Argentine and Chilean authorities involved. The rescue operation also counted with the UK coast guard help. Finally Mr Hughes underlines that all presentations will be analyzed by the UN Continental Platform Limits Commission, a technical body that does not intervene in the demarcation of limits among states or in sovereignty claims. Besides following on UN rules, limits will only extend beyond 200 miles in the zones of those territories in which geology proves there's a continental platform. This in no case can signify the appropriation of great extensions of sea bed nor does it affect fishing and other activities done above the sea shelf. "The UK and Argentina have been part of all these constructive cooperation and shared information processes. We hope it continues that way for a long time".