Law of the Sea or Law of the Strongest?

12 January 2009

Law of the Sea or Law of the Strongest?

Who controls the seabed? Who is responsible for protecting life offshore and the deep water environment? Who can justifiably call themselves the owners of the resources of the seabed? SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer has put a series of written questions to the European Commission demanding answers to these concerns.

Seabed resources

Hitherto inaccessible places on the ocean bed are coming more and more within reach, thanks to robot diving machines which enable research to be done prior to the laying of pipes and cables, or investigations into whether gas, oil, diamonds or other valuable minerals are present. According to the Belgian Dutch-language TV channel Canvas, huge developments are being launched in the volcanic zones along the west coast of Africa.


It is sometimes unclear just who is the owner of the seabed. In such cases, the law of the strongest appears to prevail. In August 2007 the Russians laid claim to a section of the seabed beneath the North Pole, at a depth of around 4.5 kilometres (just under 3 miles). In 2006 Japan and Korea fell out over the exploitation of gas and metal ore. And there are states which have unilaterally extended their sea borders, to as far as 650 kilometres (404 miles) beyond their coast.


"The EU interferes without good reason in everything and anything, in the SP's view, but when it comes to something over which they should act the European Commission often remains as silent as the North Pole itself," says Meijer. "That's why I decided to put this series of written questions. I want to know what they are doing to protect the marine environment, the animals and fish that live there. In addition, I want them to explain what they are doing to prevent armed conflict over mineral resources from the seabed."

Law of the Sea

"What currently prevails is the law of the strongest and we know that that can only lead to injustice," says Meijer. "There are at the moment a hundred known sea border disputes, but the Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in Hamburg is not equipped to deal with them. The Tribunal has a staff of only thirty, and all they deal with are disputes over fisheries. It is not an organisation capable of tackling serious abuses. I want the European Commission to tell me what they intend to do about this."

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