06/11/2024, 16.23
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Sri Lanka turns to the UN to expand its Exclusive Economic Zone

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

Sri Lanka and the Maldives are working together to avoid disputes and define their section of the ocean. The goal is to developed the area’s renewable sources potential. However, some doubt over Sri Lanka’s capacity to manage a large area.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka is carrying out intense lobbying at the UN to expand its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), working with the Maldives to avoid possible territorial disputes and conflicting claims over the continental shelf.

The EEZ is an area of ocean that extends 200 nautical miles (230 miles) beyond a country’s territorial waters, with jurisdiction over living and non-living resources.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was signed in 1982, but it has not always helped to solve disputes, like in the South China Sea where boundaries are disputed.

In May 2009, Sri Lanka submitted technical and scientific data to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, to establish the boundaries beyond the EEZ in accordance with the UNCLOS Convention.

In 2016, the Commission set up a sub-committee that engaged with its Sri Lankan counterparts, and then launched 11 rounds of talks.

“Sri Lanka has successfully established the outer edge of its continental shelf to the satisfaction of the sub-commission. Yet, it is still pending approval by the UN Commission. In 2023, Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Sabry secured Cabinet approval to set up the National Ocean Affairs Committee under the Ministry to work with the sub-commission,” a senior government official told Asia News.

“As there are overlapping claims in the extension of the continental shelf with the Maldives, during bilateral talks with Maldivian Foreign Affairs Minister Moosa Zameer, the Sri Lankan delegation discussed the issue and the two sides decided to collaborate with each other to avoid any conflict over areas of overlapping,” the senior official added.

“A country can have continental shelf right up to 350 nautical miles or 100 nautical miles from the 2,500-metre depth, which is higher,” said Australia-based international law experts Supun Alahakoon and Ashoka Withanage.

“These zones can contribute significantly in harnessing off-shore wind and ocean based renewable energy establishments. Being an island nation surrounded by the Indian Ocean, ocean based renewable energy potential in the form of wave, tide and salinity gradient is abundant in Sri Lanka.” The country, they say, can equally count on “geothermal energy”.

Sri Lanka has a coastline of 1,340 km. With the contiguous zone reaching 24 nautical miles from the outer edge of the territorial zone, territorial waters cover 21,500 km2. The EEZ covers about 510,000 km2 and provides Sri Lanka with "a potential for ocean energy," the experts add.

Ocean energy can be harnessed using five different technologies such as tidal/ocean currents, waves, tidal rise and fall (barrages), temperature gradients, and salinity gradients.

The large ocean zone is approximately 6.7 times the country's land area and “could be well-suited for locating off-shore wind and ocean-based establishments,” Supun and Ashoka.

For analysts Sampath Tennakoon and Nishantha Galagoda, “Sri Lanka’s attempt to increase its EEZ is of immense benefit to the island nation.” Nevertheless, “the issue is, can Sri Lanka as a small nation state manage an expanded ocean territory?”

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