INFORMAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN ITALY, MALTA ON MORATORIUM OFFSHORE SICILY A new chapter has opened in the relations between Italy and Malta: Rome and Valletta agreed “informally” to suspend oil drilling in the Southeastern area of Sicily where the respective claims are overlapped.
The political commitment given by the two Countries allows to glimpse prospects for resolving their long standing dispute on the delimitation of the continental shelf (CS) as well as expresses the always excellent level of their bilateral relations. The agreement must be however followed by the formal delimitation of the maritime boundary. Moreover there is a third party concerned to be considered: Libya, whose continental shelf borders the hypothetical limits of both Italy and Malta’s CS.
MARITIME SPACES IN international law of the sea are, in essence, defined in relation to the coastal State jurisdiction over each maritime space. Thus, coastal State jurisdiction is the primary criterion in characterising maritime spaces. The ambit of coastal State jurisdiction is in principle defined spatially, based on distance from the coast. According to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the territorial sea in which a coastal State exercises territorial sovereignty shall not exceed 12 nautical miles measured from the relevant baseline (Article 3). The contiguous zone over which a limited jurisdiction is exercised by the coastal State may not extend beyond 24 nautical miles from that line (Article 33). The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), where the coastal State may exercise sovereign rights regarding the exploration and exploitation of natural resources, shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles (Article 57). The same is in principle true for continental shelves of less than 200 nautical miles (Article 76(1)). It would seem safe to say that these rules have now become customary law. Hence, the definition of the spatial extent of coastal State jurisdiction is at the heart of the international law of the sea.
Delimitation of the territorial sea between States with opposite or adjacent coasts
Where the coasts of two States are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither of the two States is entitled, failing agreement between them to the contrary, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two States is measured. The above provision does not apply, however, where it is necessary by reason of historic title or other special circumstances to delimit the territorial seas of the two States in a way which is at variance therewith.
This provision in a near-verbatim reproduction of the equivalent provision of the 1958 Territorial Sea Convention. It reflects a compromise reached at UNCLOS I – and again at UNCLOS III – between two general proposed methods of delimitation.
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