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Sri Lanka and India navigate overlapping claims on continental shelf expansion

July 08, Colombo (LNW): Sri Lanka’s efforts to extend its continental shelf beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone have encountered complications due to overlapping claims from India, prompting bilateral engagement between the two nations to resolve the issue, revealed a top official.

In May 2009, Sri Lanka submitted technical and scientific data to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf under the Law of the Sea Convention.

This submission aimed to establish the outer limits of Sri Lanka’s continental shelf beyond the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

Since 2016, a dedicated Sri Lankan delegation has engaged in 11 rounds of talks with a sub-commission established by the UN Commission.

According to informed sources, Sri Lanka has successfully delineated the outer edge of its continental shelf to the satisfaction of the sub-commission, awaiting final approval from the UN body.

Last year, Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Sabry obtained Cabinet approval to establish the National Ocean Affairs Committee under the Ministry to collaborate with the sub-commission on this matter.

However, India has also asserted overlapping claims in the same region. Minister Sabry reportedly discussed this issue with Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar during a recent visit to Sri Lanka.

Dr. Jaishankar has committed to examining the matter closely for appropriate action.

In cases of overlapping claims, the UN Commission typically directs countries to resolve the issue bilaterally before further action can be taken.

In a related development, India sought approval from the International Seabed Authority in January to explore the cobalt-rich Afanasy Nikitin Seamount in the central Indian Ocean, an area also claimed by Sri Lanka in its continental shelf expansion plans.

This issue remains unresolved pending bilateral discussions.

Cobalt, a critical mineral essential for electric vehicles and batteries, holds significant importance in the global transition towards green energy.

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