By Osvaldo N Mársico (Chairman of COPLA) (*) - In my capacity as the head of the COPLA National Committee on Argentina’s Continental Platform at the Foreign Ministry, I would like to refer to the letter of Professor Peter Willets published last Saturday (Mercopress) concerning the outer limit of the Argentine continental shelf and clarify some mistakes and misconceptions evident in Professors Willets’ letter.
It is incorrect to affirm that Argentina announced “last March that the United Nations had endorsed its claim around the Falkland Islands.”
In the first place, it is necessary to explain that the outer limit of the Argentine continental shelf comprises the shelf pertaining to the entire Argentine territory: continental territory, the Malvinas, South Georgia and Sandwich Islands and the Argentine Antarctica. It cannot be otherwise since all of them are Argentine territories and therefore, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, they all have their corresponding maritime areas, including the continental shelf.
In the map that was shown in the Press Conference held on March 28 to which Willets seems to refer, the limit is indicated in deep blue and it represents the continental shelf that goes beyond the 200 nautical miles which comprises an area of approximately 1.7 million square kilometres.
But later in that same Conference, when the Recommendations adopted by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf by consensus were explained, it was made clear that the latter, in accordance with its Rules of Procedure, has deferred the analysis of the area under a sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom.
That is exactly the importance of the Recommendations for us on that particular point: it represents a new recognition by an international body of the existence of such a dispute, especially when the other party in the controversy, namely the United Kingdom, refuses to acknowledge it. It was clearly explained that there was a part of the Argentine submission which was not analyzed by the Commission.
Professor Willets wrongly affirms that the Commission “refused to approve Argentina’s claim.” The Commission just deferred the analysis due to the existence of a dispute. The same procedure was followed in relation to the UK submissions on the Malvinas and on the North Sea area, where a sovereignty dispute also exists among the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland and Denmark.
The outcome of the Recommendations is that the limit that Argentina establishes in the area which was actually analyzed by the Commission becomes final and binding for the whole international community.
The mistake incurred by Professor. Willets consists in not realizing that the limit of the continental shelf that becomes final and binding is only a portion of the total outer limit of the Argentine continental shelf, but that there is another area, as valid as the former, even though it cannot yet be considered final, due to the existence of the sovereignty dispute. This is not, however, a new situation.
Argentina has set the baselines pertaining to the Malvinas, South Georgia and Sandwich Islands and has established the territorial waters and the economic exclusion zone of the islands in all Argentine official maps.
In conclusion, in the delineation of the outer limit of the continental shelf, Argentina was consistent with the criteria utilized for the other maritime spaces.
(*) Copla, La Comision Nacional (Argentina) del Límite Exterior de la Plataforma Continental (Argentina's National Committee on the Outer Limits of the Continental Shelf)
The piece is in reply to two articles published by MercoPress on June 3rd, Argentine hopes dashed on Falklands, Antarctica: Continental Shelf Commission refused to consider three major claims, and Delimitation of the Argentine continental shelf by Professor Peter Willetts.