Government of the Federated States of Micronesia

Ontong Java Plateau MOU Signed by Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands, on 6 March 2009

Palikir, Pohnpei (FSM Information Services): May 1, 2009 - An MOU signed by Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands on the 6th of March 2009, marks the end of the technical work program for a claim to the Ontong Java Plateau undertaken by the technical officials from the three countries involved in a single joint submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to meet the United Nations deadline of 13 May 2009.

The MOU was signed by Mr. Gabriel Pepson, Secretary of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for Papua New Guinea; His Excellency, Mr. Samson Pretrick, Ambassador for Federated States of Micronesia based in Fiji; and His Excellency, Mr. Bernard Bata'anisia, High Commissioner of Solomon Islands to Papua New Guinea.

An another MOU to claim extended continental shelves in the Eauripik Rise and Mussau Ridge was signed between the Federated States of Micronesia and Papua New Guinea to cooperate in the like manner.

Initially a State Party to the 1982 United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea is required to submit its claim for an extended continental shelf ten years (10) from the date of its ratification of the Convention. Unfortunately, overwhelming number of coastal States did not meet this requirement and therefore a new time deadline was set by State Parties Meeting to the Convention on the Law of the Sea to extend the deadline to the 13 of May 2009.

Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands are State Parties to this Convention, are now taking steps to submit their single joint claim within the above deadline. There is already precedent for joint claims and therefore the three countries have undertaken a similar joint approach.

The claim for an extended continental shelf in the Ontong Java Plateau area lies between the three countries beyond the international accepted legal limit of 200 nautical miles. This Plateau is considered the largest submarine plateau in the Pacific region and covers a total combined area of about 1, 982,000 km2 and stands 2000 to 4000metres above the adjacent deep ocean floor. It would not make sense if the three countries did not claim this large area and therefore worth the effort to prepare a joint claim, also avoiding possible technical and legal arguments because of the closeness of the three countries' territories.

Legal Context

The 200 nautical miles is the final legal limit for every coastal State. Beyond 200nm is the high seas regime. A Coastal State is entitled to exercise rights to exploit its resources both in the water and in the seabed and subsoil up to the 200nautical mile limit measured from the baseline from which its territorial sea is measured. Thus up to the 200 nautical miles the Coastal State does not need to establish or proclaim the continental shelf; it already enjoys the existence of the shelf up to the 200nm.

The water column in the 200nm area is normally referred to as the exclusive economic zone. The exclusive economic zone regime applies to the seabed and its subsoil up to 200M as well as to the water column and its resources. The continental shelf regime applies only to the seabed and its subsoil up to at least 200m from the baselines and its resources.

Where a coastal State has a wide continental margin, wider than 200nm, then for that wider portion the coastal State is required by Article 76 of the Law of the Sea Convention to establish the outer limits of the continental shelf in accordance with the criteria (Scientific & Technical Guidelines of the Commission) set down by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea enables a Coastal State with a wide continental margin to claim an extended continental shelf well before 13 of May, 2009. In essence the three countries intend to claim extra areas of seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas, and not the water column which will remain high seas.

Potential for Economic Benefits

The natural resources of the continental shelf would normally be the mineral resources; other non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil, and living organisms belonging to the sedentary species. Massive Sulphides, Hydrocarbons, Gas Hydrates have been studied to occur in deep sea sediments, Genetic Resources for biomedical purposes such as organisms or bacteria found in the Manus Basin in the Bismarck Sea would be further examples and of course potential for continued marine scientific research interests.

Ocean resources have potential uses for economic development. These are some of the underlying reasons why the Law of the Sea Convention made provision for exploitation of both living and non living resources to be enjoyed by the Coastal State both in the continental shelf and also in the extended continental shelf. The access to the oceans for development is possible therefore proper measures for both legal and policy frameworks are also very necessary to set the basis or foundation for such development.

Cooperation for the Future

The MOU signed by the three countries is a sign of cooperation for future developments in this area. The upshot of this cooperation is, essentially, to avoid potential disputes and a historical event for Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to make its claim for extended continental shelf to the Ontong Java Plateau and likewise for PNG and Federated States of Micronesia also in the Mussau and Eauripik Rise areas.

Once a claim is determined for the three countries and subject to the recommendations of the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the Ontong Java Plateau will belong jointly to the three Coastal States until further negotiations by the three countries themselves to divide the area by agreement/treaty. That makes this joint claim historical for the countries.

The technical officials had been working together for almost five years on a single joint Submission to claim an extended continental in the Ontong Java Plateau therefore the MOU now signed by the three countries cements that cooperation and enables the technical officials in sharing resources, sharing of knowledge, and providing assistance to each other, through pooling of resources towards meeting the deadline set by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

Acknowledgement of Assistance

The Papua New Guinea Government has fully supported the work of the technical officials from the three countries and allocated budgetary support to the PNG Project to assist with a number of the technical working meetings in both Port Moresby and Alotau outside of the other meetings funded by the South Pacific Applied Geosciences Commission abroad.

The nature of the extended continental shelf work is complex, challenging and learning experience for the joint team. It requires a multidiscipline approach, and it would not have been possible without expert advice. The technical officials of the three countries have worked together with the support and technical expert advice of a number of external partners namely:

  1. The South Pacific Applied Geosciences Commission (SOPAC), based in Fiji, which assisted members develop their extended continental shelves through funding support from Aus-aid and through its core funding for Maritime Baselines Program;

  2. Geo-science Australia with technical advice and overall guidance to eight SOPAC countries including Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands ;

  3. Aus-aid funding through the Pacific Governance Support Program

  4. Commonwealth Secretariat based in London for its continued Technical Assistance to the PNG Government since 2004 including a separate Technical Assistance also to Government of Solomon Islands

  5. National Oceanography Centre of the University of Southampton, United Kingdom

  6. UNEP Shelf Program, Sydney and Pacific offices

  7. Grid Arundel, Norway, for GEOCAP software license and continued training

  8. Government of Norway for funding to the UN Trust Fund to support Developing and Least Developing Countries

  9. Geolimits Consulting

  10. Government of Japan for a one off funding assistance to SOPAC for software training to SOPAC countries in their extended continental shelf work

  11. Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia for allocating funds to the FSM Technical Team

Final Preparation

The technical officials are in the midst of finalizing all the documentation for printing of the single joint submission and will undergo internal approval processes to submit to their Governments to endorse the Submission to enable the team to present to the United Nations Commission on the Outer Limits of the Continental Shelf in New York and thereafter to defend the claim when called upon just like all other Coastal States undergoing similar processes. The MOU signed by the three countries will become part of the documentation of the single joint submission of the three countries.

(Media release compiled by the Joint Taskforce of the Ontong Java Plateau Technical Team, Port Moresby PNG)


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