Four nations battle over Rockall fishing and oil rights –

Four nations battle over Rockall fishing and oil rights Published:  27 September, 2007

Iceland’s Foreign Minister, Ingibjörg Gísladóttir

FOUR normally friendly countries have been locked in intense talks this week over fishing and fossil fuel rights around one of the North Atlantic’s most remote regions – Rockall.

Iceland’s Foreign Minister, Ingibjörg Gísladóttir led discussions with Britain, Ireland and Denmark (representing the Faroe Islands) in Reykjavík about how to divide ‘rights to resources’ on what is officially called Hatton Rockall continental shelf. The area is close to Rockall, a British-owned speck of land 230 miles west of the nearest inhabited Scottish island.

Along with rich fishing rights, natural resources like oil are believed to exist in the underwater zone and the four nations have debated about the rights to harness them for the past six years.

Ms Gísladóttir said: “Great interests are at stake, because if we do not succeed in reaching an agreement, the natural resources will remain unused and an extensive collection of data will be wasted on nothing.” In less than two years, Iceland has to submit a report to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), which will then estimate reports from all nations claiming rights to the continental shelf in question and propose how it should be divided.

The purpose of the talks is to find common ground to put in a joint claim by all four states, because if a dispute continues to exist, the United Nations will not entertain a claim from any single country.

Iceland says it automatically has the rights to an area of the continental shelf limited by 200 nautical miles around the island, but claims it can, under certain natural circumstances, claim rights to other parts of the continental shelf as well.

This lump of granite has for decades been argued over by Britain and Ireland . The talks in Reykjavik are intended to put an end to past bickering, with a comprehensive deal being thrashed out between Britain, Ireland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands – a Danish dependency. Under a new United Nations code, states applying before 2009 can claim the ocean floor that links directly to their own land mass – provided there is no dispute with neighbouring countries.

When news broke at the weekend that the UK was preparing to lodge an application for control of the underwater landmass around Rockall to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, it annoyed the Irish government.

Britain’s claim to Rockall dates from 1955 when two Royal Marines were dropped on to the rock by helicopter, where they planted the Union flag and cemented a plaque asserting UK sovereignty over it. The reason given at the time was to block the Soviet Union’s expansionist claims.

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: “We are hoping to submit a joint claim with Ireland and Iceland and Denmark for 2009. We will not be discussing the details of that claim. There has been a lot of scientific research into the geology of the area and that data has to be processed before we can come to a mutual agreement.”

Under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, coastal states are allowed to own the seabed for 200 miles if it is part of a continental shelf. The new code extends the limit to 350 miles offshore, although the rules will only apply to the seabed and not to the fish above it. Iceland is also claiming rights to the international territories Hatton Rockall, Síldarsmugan (“Herring Passage”) and an area off the Reykjanes Ridge is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.