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Ministry of Foreign Affairs Addresses Media Reports on Continental Shelf Submission and Cobalt-Rich Crust Exploration

July 09, Colombo (LNW): The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has responded to recent media reports concerning Sri Lanka’s continental shelf submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) in New York and issues related to the International Seabed Authority (ISBA) in Jamaica regarding exploration of the cobalt-rich crust in the “Afanasy Nikitin Seamount.”

The Ministry emphasized that under Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), all coastal states are entitled to claim an extended continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Following extensive studies and expert consultations, Sri Lanka submitted its technical and scientific data to the UNCLCS on May 8, 2009, aiming to establish the outer limits of its continental shelf. This submission was made under the special method outlined in the Statement of Understanding (SoU) for states in the southern part of the Bay of Bengal.

In October 2016, the UNCLCS appointed a Subcommission to review Sri Lanka’s submission, leading to several rounds of discussions between the Subcommission and the Sri Lankan delegation. However, the UNCLCS has yet to make recommendations on Sri Lanka’s submission, which is currently on hold due to a request from India concerning the area claimed by Sri Lanka. The Ministry is addressing this issue through diplomatic channels.

Separately, India has applied to the ISBA in Kingston, Jamaica, for approval of a plan to explore cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts at the Afanasy Nikitin Seamount. The ISBA, established under Part XI Section 4 of the UNCLOS, reviews such applications.

Sri Lanka has informed the ISBA that the area proposed for exploration by India overlaps with an area claimed by Sri Lanka under its continental shelf submission. Consequently, Sri Lanka has requested the ISBA to withhold the approval of India’s exploration plan until the UNCLCS makes its final recommendations on Sri Lanka’s submission. The ISBA is currently following the appropriate procedures, and the matter is ongoing.

The Ministry clarified that both issues are being processed separately by the UNCLCS and the ISBA, in accordance with their mandates under the UNCLOS. Recent public speculations about the ceding of Sri Lanka’s sovereign rights are unfounded and not based on the actual situation.

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