Dr. Constantinos Yiallourides, the author of Maritime Disputes and International Law: Disputed Waters and Seabed Resources in Asia and Europe, is a specialist in maritime and territorial disputes working as the Arthur Watt Research Fellow in Public International Law at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. His research focuses on the law of the territory, the law of the sea, environmental and natural resources of law, and peaceful settlement of disputes.
Dr. Yiallourides referred to domestic legislation like civil aviation law, petroleum law, and territorial waters law as well as bilateral treaties such as the agreement concerning the joint development of the southern part of the continental shelf and the agreement concerning the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Persian Gulf.
The maritime boundary disputes between China and Japan in the East China Sea and Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea are politically deadlocked followed by military standoffs and unrest despite diplomatic efforts being made to settle these conflicts. Neither side in each case is willing to back down which is making the current status quo unstable and limits exploration and exploitation of seabed energy and mineral resources.
The East China Sea and the Aegean Sea are the two disputes limited by UNCLOS due to complex legal issues of delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf. There is a defined approach to maritime delimitation taken by courts and tribunals since the adoption of UNCLOS in 1982. The approach involves a three-step process involving the establishment of a provisional equidistance line, examination of relevant circumstances, and an examination of proportionality between coastal length and allocated maritime areas.
The maritime boundaries in the Aegean Sea remain unresolved despite several settlement attempts being made. The most debatable issue is the determination of territorial sea, continental shelf, and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundaries. Greece filed a case against Turkey in the International Court of Justice in 1976 which was ruled by the court as lack of jurisdiction.
The potential presence of petroleum resources offers economic benefits for both countries and an opportunity for a practical solution to exploit these valuable resources. In order to create a stable environment for the exploitation and exploration of resources, a delimitation agreement or provisional cooperation setting is mandatory between Greece and Turkey.
The maritime dispute between China and Japan in the East China Sea is complicated by geomorphological and geological characteristics of seabed resources and the disputed status of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. It is mandatory to draw up a legal framework for the economic exploitation of disputed areas and the practical implication of boundary disputes on natural seabed resources.
Coastal states have the responsibility to negotiate and inform other states having similar claims, of their intentions to develop and explore seabed resources in a disputed maritime area in accordance with UNCLOS and must avoid actions that could escalate the dispute.
The maritime delimitation disputes negatively impact the development of disputed offshore natural resources, and international oil companies are unlikely to invest in a politically uncertain environment. Joint development could be considered as a pragmatic solution for inter-state cooperation and energy investment in disputed areas as it allows for coordinated economic utilization of disputed areas and removes contested jurisdiction from the agenda of disputed states.
The legal foundation of joint development is examined in international law and different operative models are considered including the mandatory joint venture model, joint authority model, and model with distinct administrative structures for different sections of disputed areas.
Joint development agreement has been more favourable in disputed maritime areas as they allow resource exploitation while boundaries remain unsettled. Some examples are Kuwait/Saudi Arabia, Bahrain/Saudi Arabia, Malaysia/Vietnam, Japan/South Korea, Malaysia/Thailand, and Australia/Indonesia. These joint development agreements aim to facilitate resource operations, maximize economic interests, and strengthen bilateral relations and cooperation.
Maritime Disputes and International Law highlights the importance of equitable considerations in International law for boundary delimitation and the dire need for close coordination among states involved in maritime disputes. The author effectively highlights the potential national security risk associated with unilateral seismic exploration. He instead proposes joint development agreements as the only empirical way forward for coordinating the exploration and exploitation of seabed resources in maritime disputed areas.
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