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Caribbean nations prepare for maritime boundary talks with Commonwealth support

27 July 2016

Government officials from eight Caribbean countries preparing for bilateral talks to settle unresolved maritime boundaries are in London this week to exchange best practices and receive technical guidance from the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Representatives from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines participated, as well as four British overseas territories - Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos - alongside the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and other regional bodies.

The Commonwealth Caribbean Working Session on Maritime Boundaries and Ocean Governance, from 25 to 27 July 2016 at Marlborough House, is supporting the officials to build skills and share knowledge. It will assist the governments to head off boundary disputes and provide greater legal certainty for the sustainable management of their marine resources, including commercial fish stocks and subsea minerals.

Crispin D’Auvergne, Chief Sustainable Development and Environment Officer from Saint Lucia, said he hoped the working session would help to mobilise action to resolve outstanding boundary issues. “My expectations are for a rich discussion on key issues surrounding maritime boundary delimitation and ocean governance that will help to determine the path for national and collective regional action,” he said.

It is the third time in recent years that the Commonwealth Secretariat has brought together government officials from the region to support skills development and sharing of best practices – and the first since world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, of which Goal 14 is to ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources’.

Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Josephine Ojiambo opened the working session on Monday by underlining the Commonwealth Secretariat’s decades-old support to small island states in maritime boundary delimitation and issues related to international laws of the sea and natural resource management.

“The Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth has a long history of support and interaction with Caribbean member countries in the area of ocean governance and maritime boundaries,” said Dr Ojiambo.

Rosemarie Cadogan, Maritime Boundaries Legal Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: “The forum continues to be a rich source of regional consensus and this year is no exception. The Commonwealth is pleased to support our Caribbean member states as they seek to realise the potential of their marine spaces and further integrate an ocean based economy.”

In the Caribbean, Commonwealth experts are providing technical assistance on ocean governance and maritime boundary negotiations to Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Many of these negotiations have concluded or are currently in progress.

Peter Murray, Programme Manager of Fisheries Management and Development at the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, which provides advice to national governments, said: “We tend to think of the special circumstances in boundary delimitation in terms of oil, gas and fisheries. But what about tourism? What about the special circumstances of being an overseas territory? The Commonwealth Secretariat can help determine what are the implications of these issues.”

Another of the participants, Justice Winston Anderson from the Caribbean Court of Justice, said: “I would say there is no single more important issue facing the region than maritime boundary delimitation, because of course we’re almost all small islands so we are defined by the law of the sea. In most cases our maritime zones dwarf our land spaces, sometimes five, nine or 20 times the size, and the resources that this represents for us and the potential for these resources to contribute to national development is very significant."

During the working session, participants are also learning about Commonwealth initiatives through which they can access technical support and funds, such as the Commonwealth Green Finance Facility, Commonwealth Caribbean Vision Project, Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, and Commonwealth Debt for Climate Change Swaps Initiative.