UN recognises NZ's extended seabed rights

Monday 22 September 2008, 5:57PM
By Rt. Hon Helen Clark

Prime Minister Helen Clark said today that New Zealand’s rights over approximately 1.7 million square kilometres of seabed have been confirmed by a special United Nations Commission.

Helen Clark said that the successful outcome of New Zealand’s submission in New York is the result of more than ten years’ work by New Zealand scientists and officials.

"Under the Law of the Sea Convention, New Zealand has been able to submit information on the outer limits of our continental shelf to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

"The continental shelf is the area of seabed outside New Zealand’s existing 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The area confirmed by the UN Commission is more than six times the size of New Zealand’s land area.

"The 21-member UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf was set up to consider and make recommendations on information submitted by coastal States concerning the outer limits of their respective continental shelf areas beyond their EEZ.

"The Commission examined New Zealand’s continental shelf submission for more than two years before issuing its decision this month.

"New Zealand was one of the first countries to make a submission to the Commission. Our thorough approach attracted very favourable comments from Commission members, and is likely to be seen as a model for other countries looking to confirm their continental shelf boundaries.

"This success enables New Zealand to exercise its rights to the continental shelf with certainty, including its rights in the future, if it chooses to pursue them, to resources such as minerals and petroleum.

"New Zealand’s submission was the product of a $44 million Government project, carried out by officials and scientists. Special surveys were conducted to provide the information required to identify the continental shelf boundary.

"New Zealand will now set its continental shelf boundary based on the Commission’s recommendations. The boundary will be binding on other countries.

"A boundary will also be negotiated with Fiji and Tonga over the continental shelf north of New Zealand. A continental shelf boundary was agreed with Australia in July 2004.

"New Zealand is entitled to the undersea resources of the continental shelf. The seas above the continental shelf are international waters, so New Zealand has no special rights to the fisheries in this area," Helen Clark said.



Background information - New Zealand’s existing 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was concluded in 1982 and sets out a comprehensive regime for the law of the sea, covering issues including the legal regime for the 200 nautical mile wide exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the continental shelf, the high seas and the deep seabed outside national jurisdiction. More than 150 countries, including New Zealand, are party to UNCLOS.

UNCLOS established the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), which is responsible for considering and making recommendations on information submitted by coastal states concerning the outer limits of their continental shelf areas (beyond the EEZ).

UNCLOS also established the International Seabed Authority, which is responsible for organising and controlling activities relating to deep seabed resources that are outside national jurisdiction areas.


New Zealand’s Continental Shelf submission
In April 2006 New Zealand became the fifth country to make a submission to the CLCS.

The New Zealand submission identifies the area of seabed outside the EEZ over which New Zealand has jurisdiction. Completion of the submission process confirms New Zealand’s rights over this extended area and allows greater control and sustainable management of any future exploration and extraction activities on the sea bed.

New Zealand must pay a proportion (up to seven per cent) of any revenue obtained from the non-living resources (e.g. petroleum and minerals) of the continental shelf outside the EEZ to the International Seabed Authority for distribution to developing countries.

Submissions by other countries
Russia, Brazil, Australia and Ireland lodged their submissions before New Zealand. Many more submissions will be lodged with the Commission over the next year as countries seek to meet the notional timeframe for lodging of 13 May 2009. However, as no legal consequences flow from failure to meet the timeframe, it is likely that a number of states will lodge submissions after May 2009.


More information
Executive Summary of New Zealand’s submission:  
Information on the work involved in preparing New Zealand’s continental shelf submission, please see:  
Background information on New Zealand’s continental shelf, please click here: