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Commonwealth assists Tuvalu to jointly claim additional seabed with France and New Zealand

7 December 2012
The Commonwealth Secretariat has assisted Tuvalu, France (for Wallis and Futuna) and New Zealand (for the non-self-governing territory of Tokelau) to lodge a joint submission with the United Nations today for additional seabed.

In the submission, the three countries assert their entitlement to a significant area of seabed in the Pacific under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

What is a continental shelf?

The continental shelf of a coastal state comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance. (Source: Article 76, 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)

The area of seabed (continental shelf) covered by the submission may one day prove to be an important source of natural resources, such as oil, gas and minerals, and contribute to the sustainable economic development of Tuvalu.

“This is a historic achievement for Tuvalu. The preparation of a submission is a significant undertaking that involves a consideration of complex legal and scientific issues," said Joshua Brien from the Commonwealth Secretariat's Economic and Legal Section.

The Secretariat provided legal and technical advice and assistance throughout the development of the submission and prepared the final documents on behalf of the three countries.

It is the second joint submission to have been made by small island countries in the Pacific with the assistance of the Secretariat, which is advising member countries throughout the globe on maritime boundary and ocean governance issues.

The Law of the Sea Convention is a multilateral treaty that establishes a framework of rules and principles to govern all ocean space. The Convention has been ratified by more than 157 countries, including 47 Commonwealth member countries. 

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