Monday, 17 March 2014

UN awards Sea of Okhotsk enclave to Russia

On 15 March the Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Sergey Donskoy, announced that the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf had recognised a section of the Sea of Okhotsk as part of his country’s continental shelf. The enclave, off Russia’s eastern coast, covers a 52,000 square kilometre area of fishing waters estimated to be rich in oil and gas reserves.

At the press conference, Donskoy told reporters that “This is in fact an accomplished event,” stressing that this decision to place the enclave under Russian jurisdiction was irreversible; Russia will get exclusive rights to the area. He said the Ministry had received a formal certificate from the UN Commission, which gives it exclusive rights to subsoil resources and the seabed, although the Sea technically still remains part of international waters.

Though the news of the UN Commission award is not really new – it was announced back in November – it had to be confirmed by the 33rd session of the body held earlier this month. Speaking last year, Donskoy said "Thanks to recognition of this enclave as a part of the Russian continental shelf, our country will gain more reserves of valuable minerals and other natural resources. This 52,000-square-kilometer territory is a real Ali Baba's cave in terms of resources. Access to it will open up enormous opportunities and prospects for the Russian economy."

The enclave forms part of the Okhotsk Sea, a marginal sea which covers an area of 1.6 million square kilometres in the western Pacific Ocean, located to the west of the Kamchatka Peninsula and north of the Kuril Islands. Traditionally known for its rich fishing waters, up to 40 per cent of the newly awarded enclave could hold hydrocarbons resources. Offshore blocks near the Russian port of Magadan have shown serious prospects in terms of crude deposits.

The Minister has said that Russia’s case for this award is a pre-cursor to its claims in the Arctic Circle, “which will be drafted in the near future”. Russia was the first country to submit territorial claims to the UN Commission charged with demarcating borders in the Arctic. 

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