The 3rd World Congress of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs ) was held in Marseilles and Ajaccio in October 2013 and the Government of New Caledonia reacted quickly by officially opening in April 2014 the Natural Park of the Coral Sea.
This is an important issue for France, which has the second largest maritime space behind the United States [Which recently drastically increased the size of its Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument]. Indeed, the New Caledonian park occupies its entire exclusive economic zone, nearly 1.3 million km².
What are the issues and the objectives of this park? Which obstacles the government of New Caledonia will have to face?
A Beautiful Project
Harold Martin, the President of the Government of New Caledonia, announced the creation of the park in August 2012 at the annual meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum. He relied on a strategic analysis of the maritime space planning, conducted in 2012 with technical support from the Agency of Marine Protected Areas.
Five parks were recently created in France. However, only two are operational (Iroise and Mayotte) and have a management plan and a team ready for action.
Olivier Laroussini, director of the Agency for Marine Protected Areas, considers that “France’s oversea territories are larger and less populated; they can help revitalize the creation of protected areas.”
The natural park of the Coral Sea is today one of the largest protected marine areas in the world: 1.3 million km², which represents 95% of waters on which New Caledonia is sovereign. This also amounts to 12.7% of the entire French maritime space.
The need for a natural park
The decree creating the park was adopted on 23rd April. This new space contributes to strengthening the French network of marine protected areas. France announced its intention to classify 20% of its maritime territory into marine protected areas by 2020.
Indeed, only 3% of waters are protected worldwide, while the target set by the Convention on Biological Diversity signed in Nagoya in 2010 and reiterated in Ajaccio last October was of 10%. It is necessary to protect the marine environment since 40% of the world’s oceans are permanently affected by human activities, in particular by overfishing, pollution and acidification linked to global warming.
The objectives of the Natural Park of Coral Sea
Anthony Lecren member of the Government of New Caledonia with the portfolio of sustainable development, presented the objectives of the park: this area is meant to protect the biodiversity, while contributing to the sustainable development of maritime activities and allowing New Caledonia to become a motor in regional dynamics in this field.
Jean-Paul Michel, director of Global Ocean Legacy France recalls that “this park is very ambitious: its wide surface will allow the ecosystem to regenerate well. But for now on, this is an empty shell: we must assign resources and choose the areas to be particularly protected.”
Indeed, the main challenge is to generate a genuine shared management. For this, a management committee will be established soon. It will include local actors (institutions, civil society, traditional and scientific representatives) and it will be chaired by the High Commissioner of the Republic, representing the French state (equivalent to governor) and the President of the Government of New Caledonia. Within three years, it will develop a management plan that will define conservation areas, reserves of ecosystems and those suitable for fishing and tourism. Those proposals will then be sent to the government of New Caledonia for adoption. The latter is indeed competent in managing the resources of the maritime space while the French government retains the power to maintain sovereignty over these waters.
It is the government of New Caledonia that will support the financing of the management (many funds have yet to be raised), while the French state will be responsible for ensuring the functions of surveillance and law enforcement. Jean-Michel Paul reminds us that “We should also ensure that the next government, which [was] named after the provincial election on May 11, allocates the resources necessary for the proper management of the park.” And indeed, the uncertainty rules in the camp of local actors.
In addition, this new park should be submitted to the Oceania 21 conference to be held in late June in Noumea. This event will bring together heads of state from 15 countries and recognized experts, including Nicolas Hulot , the Special Envoy of the President of the French Republic for the preservation of the planet and Jean-Michel Cousteau , grand-son of the Commander Jean-Jacques Cousteau and founder of the “Ocean Futures Society” association, based in Santa Barbara, USA.
Unfortunately, delays have occurred at the administrative level that augured that it will be difficult to make this conference a summary of actions already underway.
In New Caledonia, it is feared that many use conflicts emerge, especially when the park will cover areas where the native population, the Kanaks, are accustomed to fish.
Another issue is the completion of the Extraplac program which suffers significant budgetary problems which seriously hamper its deployment, and beyond, the implementation of an ambitious maritime policy.
In addition, France has taken a considerable delay in filing extension requests to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, in the case of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, the French Polynesia and Clipperton.
Negotiations with neighboring States relating to the boundaries of sovereignty have also led to freeze requests on New Caledonia, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and the Kerguelen Islands.
Alix is a writer, researcher, and correspondent on the Asia-Pacific region for Marine Renewable Energy LTD. She previously served as a maritime policy advisor to the New Zealand Consul General in New Caledonia and as the French Navy’s Deputy Bureau Chief for State Action at Sea, New Caledonia Maritime Zone.
Major war in East Asia is a very unpleasant, but not unthinkable scenario. Of course, the US would be involved from day one in any military conflict in the East or South China Seas. However, Europe’s role would be less clear, due to its increasing strategic irrelevance. Most probably, except the UK, Europeans would deliver words only.
Hence, let us discuss the very unpleasant scenario that either there would be a major war between China and Japan or between China and South China Sea neighboring countries, such as Vietnam or the Philippines. Of course, the US would be involved in the conflict from day one. But what about Europe? The Old Continent would surely be affected, especially by the dramatic global economic impact an East Asian War would have. However, reactions of European countries would largely depend on what the US is doing: the larger the US engagement, the louder Washington’s calls for a coalition of the willing and capable will count.
The UK would (maybe) go
The Royal Navy undertakes annual “Cougar Deployments” to the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the UK still has expeditionary capabilities to join US-led operations in East of Malacca. Disaster relief after Typhoon Haiyan by the destroyer HMS Daring and the helicopter carrier HMS Illustriousproved that British capability. While Daring is a sophisticated warship, the 34 year old Illustrious with her few helicopters and without fixed-wing aircraft would not be of much operational worth.
Royal Navy SSN in the Suez Canal in 2001 (The Hindu)
Moreover, since 2001, the Royal Navy always operates one SSN with Tomahawk cruise-missiles in the Indian Ocean, probably the most sophisticated high-intensity warfare platfrom the Royal Navy would have to offer for an East Asia deployment. The UK still has access to ports in Singapore and Brunei, although there is no guarantee that these countries, when not involved in the conflict, would open their ports for British ships underway to war. Australia, which is likely to join forces with the US, would be an other option for replenishment at the port of Darwin.
Through the Polar Route (a route European airlines used while Soviet airspace was closed) and with aerial refueling or stops in Canada and Alaska, Britain could also deploy some of its Eurofighters to Japan. As such, Britain would be capable of doing, at least, something.
The question is,if Britain is willing to take action. Surely, UKIP’s Nigel Farage would not hesitate to use the broad public reluctance to expeditionary endeavors for his’ own cause. As in case of Syria, a lack of public support at home could prevent the UK from a military involvement. It would be hard for any UK Government to sell to the British voter to cut back public spending at home while signing checks for the Royal Navy heading towards East Asian waters.
France would not make a difference
Beside the US, France is the world’s only navy with a permanent presence through bases in all three oceans. Although, with one frigate, France’s Pacific presence of surface warships is relatively small. The one Tahiti-based French frigate deployed to an East Asian theater would not make a difference, but be a rather small show of force.
Like Britain, France permanently operates warships in the Indian Ocean, which it could also deploy to East Asia. Its nuclear-powered carrier Charles de Gaulle and SSN would also be able to tour beyond Singapore, however with a relatively long reaction time.
Paris’ main hurdle would be the same as London’s: The lack of public support. Le Pen would do exactly the same as UKIP and mobilize publicly against a French engagement and, thereby, against the government. Moreover, France has not the money necessary for any substantial and high-intensity engagement. In addition, a weak president like Hollande would fear the political risks. Given the operation ends in a disaster for the French, e.g. with the Charles de Gaulle sunk by the Chinese, Mr. Hollande would probably have to resign. Hence, do not expect an active role of France during an East Asian conflict.
No role for NATO and EU
On paper, NATO, with its Standing Maritime Groups, seems to be capable of deploying relevant naval forces across the globe. In practice, however, any mission with a NATO logo needs approval of 28 member states. Due to NATO’s present pivot to Russia, many members would object any new NATO involvement outside the Euro-Atlantic Area. As the US prefers coalitions of the willing and capable anyway, there would be no role for NATO in an East Asian war.
In addition, there is also no role for the EU. Since 2011, the rejections each year to the EU for observing the East Asia Summit are showing Brussels’ enduring strategic irrelevance in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, neutral EU members, like Sweden and Austria, would never allow any active involvement. It is even questionable, if EU members could agree on a common political position or sanctions – something they have already failed to do often enough.
Dependent on the size and kind of US response, smaller European countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway may join forces with the US Navy and send single vessels through the Panama Canal into the Pacific or replace US warships on other theaters. This is not far from reality, because these countries did already sent warships into the Pacific for the RIMPAC exercise. However, their only motivation would be to use these deployments to make their voices better heard in Washington.
What would Germany do?
First of all, Germany is the enduring guarantee that, when confronted with major war in East Asia, NATO and EU will do nothing else than sending out press releases about their “deep concern”. Being happy that ISAF’s end terminates the era of large expeditionary deployments, Germany’s political class would never approve an active military role in East Asia – left aside that Germany would not be able to contribute much, anyway.
Germany would first and foremost defend its trade relationships with China, which is in its national interests. Thus, the much more interesting question is, if the German government would develop the a diplomatic solution. Germany has very good relationships with the US, China, Japan and South Korea. Vietnam and other South East Asian countries have frequently expressed greater interest in deeper cooperation with Germany.
Hence, Germany has the political weight necessary to work for a diplomatic solution. The question is whether German politicians would be willing to work for that solution themselves. Most probably, Berlin’s press releases would call for the United Nations and the “International Community” (whoever that would be in such a scenario) to take action.
What Germany could do and what would get approval at home, is to implement measures of ending hostilities and re-establishing peace – maybe by an UN-mandated maritime monitoring mission or by the build-up of a new trust-creating security architecture.
The debate about a European role in an East Asian major war is largely hypothetical. Nevertheless, it teaches us three relevant lessons.
First, we see how politically and militarily limited Europe already has become in the early stages of the 21st century. Given current trends continue, imagine how deep Europe’s abilities will have been sunk in twenty years.
Second, the main reasons for Europe’s limits are the lack of political will, public support and money. Europe’s march to irrelevance is not irreversible. However, it would need the political will for change and an economic recovery making new financial resources available
Third, we are witnessing an increasing European geopolitical and strategic irrelevance beyond its wider neighborhood. In reality, Europe’s role in an East Asian war would be nothing else but words.
Felix Seidler is a fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany, and runs the site Seidlers-Sicherheitspolitik.net (Seidler’s Security Policy).
The Gulf of Guinea has a problem: Nigerian-driven maritime crime. Nigeria’s problem in turn is a thoroughly criminalised political and commercial elite and a largely disenfranchised electorate. The fallout of that state of affairs has an impact on the region’s security and stability. There is no short-term fix and it has become fashionable to recommend “improved governance” and anti-corruption measures to remedy the situation in the long run. This sort of advice is cheap. Beyond the obvious truth contained in them, there is little in such recommendations as to how to operationalise them or how to address the situation in practical terms as it is and will likely remain for the next years if not for decades.
The efforts of the African Partnership Station (APS) and the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) are two military-political initiatives that seek to overcome the lack of practical value of general policy recommendations and to utilise the will and the resources that exist in the region to make the best of it in the maritime environment. Within this setting OBANGAME EXPRESS is an annual test since 2011 of what has been and what still needs to be achieved in West Africa’s maritime domain. APS and AMLEP, together with the French “Operation Corymbe” are the only sustained efforts to build and maintain regional maritime security capabilities in a region characteristic for its sea blindness and mutual distrust.
With the emergence of the Gulf of Guinea Code of Conduct in 2013 and subsequent agreements between various signatories, such as the Zone E Agreement between Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Niger, West Africa makes an attempt to replicate some of the hot pursuit agreement already in existence between Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon in the borderlands of the Nigerian North and North-East and transfer that model to a maritime environment. The chief difference is that the Gulf of Guinea Code of Conduct provides a multi-lateral approach with obvious political advantages, but equally obvious operational challenges given the widely divergent maritime security agendas (where they exist) of the signatories. This problem has been circumvented for the time being by breaking down the entire region encompassing the states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) into manageable “zones” in order to be able to implement practical measures on the basis of the Code of Conduct more rapidly instead of having them negotiated by the entire forum. The zonal approach also allows individual states to shape the Code of Conduct according to their specific maritime security needs.
It is important to point out that maritime piracy (of whichever definition) is only one of many issues and for many regional states it is not even the most important or pressing one and thus not the driving force behind the Gulf of Guinea Code of Conduct. While piracy is costing the shipping industry and the region millions every year, the annual lost revenue from illegal fishing probably ranges in the several hundreds of millions while Nigeria alone loses approximately US$ 8bn per year from illegal bunkering and illegal crude oil exports. Much of the stolen oil leaves Nigeria by sea. The nexus of those criminal activities is transnational crime, often under the patronage of Nigerian elites. This makes it even more sensible to address the entire complex of maritime security as one and not just focus on a single symptom, however much this may exercise the pundits in the shipping journals and maritime security blogs.
OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014
This year’s exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS was meant to be a litmus test of the applied Zone E Agreement, both on a command & control (C2) level as well as on a tactical level – chiefly by rehearsing vessel board seize & search (VBSS) procedures, rules of engagement (ROE) and maritime interdiction operations (MIO) with boarding teams. The purpose of OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014 was thus “to exercise and evaluate the regional interoperability, multinational command and control relationships, and proficiency of the regional maritime partners in the Gulf of Guinea.”
West African statesmen like to ascribe many if not all of the region’s maritime security woes to external factors and routinely call on the international community for support to resolve the problem. This year, their call was answered during OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014 which lasted from 16 April to 23 April 2014 and included extra-regional support beyond APS from Belgium, Germany, Turkey and Spain. “During the at-sea phase of the exercise, 11 nations, including were represented on board 36 different vessels hosting 20 different boarding teams. The boarding teams completed 47 boarding drills during three days of operations” summarised Exercise Director, Captain Nancy Lacore. Several Maritime Operation commands (MOC) were involved, specifically the Regional Maritime Awareness Centre (RMAC) at the Nigerian Navy’ Western Naval Command in Lagos, the ECCAS Centre pour la Coordination Multinationale (CMC) in Douala (Cameroon) and the Battalion d’Intervention Rapide MOC in Idenau (Cameroon). This was augmented by an embarked staffs, including a regional staff led by a Ghanaian admiral on the German combat support ship Bonn.
Conduct at sea
The at-sea phase was preceded by a pre-sail training for the MIO-teams by US, German and Spanish instructors. The at-sea phase from 19-21 April 2014 covered a range of scenarios including illegal fishing, arms smuggling, human trafficking, illegal bunkering and piracy. With the exception of the Bonn, which served as the embarked staff’s flagship, all extra-regional warships and some Nigerian Navy vessels served as target ships for the MIO-teams.
The experience made on board the German frigate Hamburg was representative for the conduct of the exercise and challenges experienced by the MIO teams and their proficiency. Teams from Benin, Nigeria and Togo boarded the Hamburg which alternatingly assumed the role of an illegally fishing vessel and a gun runner. The scenarios had been scripted by the American-led exercise control staff.
Of the three MIO-teams the Nigerian Special Boat Service (SBS) team deployed from NNS Thunder displayed the highest degree of professionalism, tactical acumen and ability to graduate their approach. Although clearly trained and conditioned with the hostile opposition of illegal bunkerers, kidnappers and hijackers in mind they were able to exercise restraint and judgement appropriate to the situation. In spite of good tactical procedures their primary challenge was communication between team elements as well as with their mothership. The latter in turn suffered from poor responsiveness of the MOC, which resulted in the SBS team being “stranded” on the target vessel for 2 hours until a decision to detain the suspect vessel and provide back-up for the team could be obtained.
The Beninese boarding team from the patrol boat Oueme was representative of the average MIO teams deployed by minor West African coastal states. The recent expansion of Nigerian piracy into Beninese waters and the aggressive response that Benin launched together with Nigeria in the form of “Operation Prosperity” had shaped their approach to VBSS. The team carried out the boarding with a high degree of pre-emptive violence including death threats. Modestly equipped and with poor communications to their own ship, the team was clearly aware of its vulnerability and consequently tense throughout the scenario.
The Togolese team, finally, represented the low end of experience found amongst some of the very small and unseasoned West African navies. The absence of even the most basic equipment for VBSS operations was reflective of the Togolese Navy’s operational readiness for this type of maritime security activity. When the team boarded the Hamburg it was only their third boarding (in the course of the exercise) and the third boarding of this kind ever conducted by the Togolese Navy. At that point all equipment – weapons, helmets, life vests and RHIB (including coxswain) had to be borrowed from the German Navy. Consequently they were tactically unready, though clearly willing to learn. Nevertheless, at that point they were overwhelmed by the scenario originally envisaged for them and ended up conducting a boarding of a very compliant fishing vessel under supervision of their instructors.
Conduct on shore
Command and Control – and the inadequacy of it as it was displayed during the exercise – was a recurring theme. This was not just a view of the exercise controllers but an almost universal complaint by commanding officers of most participating units, who felt they received neither the guidance nor the information they expected and needed to carry out their mission.
The exercise exposed significant deficiencies in the MOCs’ (especially RMAC’s) ability to build and maintain a situation picture and to share maritime domain awareness (MDA) information and to process requests for decision-making. Although technical shortcomings were cited during the debrief it was clear that the issue was really an organisational and training shortfall. This includes to some extent the ability to utilise technology at hand.
The RMAC used a commercially available AIS-tracking programme called Sea Vision in order to maintain a situation picture. Because many vessels in Nigerian coastal waters do not send AIS signals, it was to be augmented by an integration of radar pictures from coastal stations and assets afloat. This solution was only implemented belatedly (with the assistance of U.S. Navy personnel) and in the meantime the Nigerian Navy resorted to only monitoring AIS signals.
The effectiveness of the RMAC suffered further from a staff organisation that in addition to not having been prepared for the exercise also appeared to be less than capable of dealing with real world incidents and reports, some of which were forwarded directly to the RMAC by participating units or MOCs. Decision-making, even for pre-authorized scenarios, was routinely escalated to flag-officer level resulting in considerable delays or even in no decision being taken at all. Interagency information sharing and exchange of maritime domain awareness information, such as with NIMASA or NPA, or the Maritime Trade Information & Security Centre (MTISC) in Ghana, which was part of the exercise brief, was not evidenced – be it for exercise purposes or in real life.
The exercise ended, predictably, with much back-patting of (especially Nigerian) top brass for a job well done. Clearly, the conduct of the exercise in itself is valuable and necessary, and arguably holding the exercise in that form was no mean feat (though the credit belongs mostly to the organisers from the U.S. Navy) however, more work needs to be done to achieve even a basic maritime security capability in the region. Beyond the preening of the Nigerian flag officers at the closing ceremony this challenge is largely understood and accepted on a working level of most Gulf of Guinea navies (ships’ commanders and exercise observers), many of whom expressed a genuine desire to continue their working relationships with the extra-regional navies. It will take time for this insight to permeate into the West African navies and until then it will need to be constantly refreshed in the minds of the West African senior naval officers and politicians.
Frustration over perceived African nonchalance or foot-dragging will continue to be a key experience for many U.S. and European participants in OBANGAME EXPRESS exercises in the foreseeable future. “FUBAR” as an American exercise staff member put it was probably the strongest characterization of what went during the exercise on at times, but as a Nigerian participant pointed out: just putting Nigerians and Cameroonians into the same room would have been unthinkable a year ago. So, is there hope after all?
The Gulf of Guinea continues to present the vexing challenge that those countries that jealously guard their right to establish maritime security are singularly incapable of doing so. Nevertheless, continual efforts like APS, AMLEP and Corymbe will provide incremental improvements or provide support for regional initiatives aimed at improving regional maritime security. Better operational maritime security capabilities will not address the problems of corruption, lack of prosecution or even the underlying transnational criminal structures, but as one of several practical measures for improving security they can encourage the willing and contain the unwilling and contribute to an improved security environment. Experience from other theatres, not least the Indian Ocean, have shown that such measures, while not eradicating the symptoms, can at least ameliorate them. While the complexity of this year’s OBANGAME EXPRESS may have overwhelmed some of the regional participants, it is important to keep the momentum going. Equally, extra-regional participants should not be discouraged by what may be perceived as slow (or non-existent) progress. It will be a long haul, measured in decades rather than years.
Dirk Steffen is a Commander (senior grade) in the German Naval Reserve with 12 years of active service between 1988 and 2000 and was assigned to the German Battlestaff of TG 501.01 on board FGS HAMBURG during Exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014. He is normally Director Maritime Security at Risk Intelligence when not on loan to the German Navy. He has been covering the Gulf of Guinea as a consultant and analyst since 2004. The opinions expressed here are his alone, and do not represent those of any German military or governmental institutions.
Who knew that France is still involved in a conflict over South Pacific maritime boundaries? Tell the French that their opponent in the conflict is Vanuatu and many will answer “What’s a Vanuatu?”
Few French even know that France claims one of the biggest aggregate maritime territories in the world. Indeed, due to its numerous overseas departments and territories, France possesses the second largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world, covering 11,035,000 km², just behind that of the United States, with 11,351,000km².
Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, even said in June 2013, that “France is a big maritime power,” and that France and Japan should collaborate for security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. Following up this sentiment, during Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to Paris, the two nations agreed to closer military ties.
Funny enough, France is never mentioned in Australia’s Defence White Paper 2013. And yet Spain is, despite lacking any territory in the South Pacific. France on the other hand retains French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, and New Caledonia, a territory with an EEZ as big as South Africa’s.
One of New Caledonia’s neighbors, Vanuatu, then known as the New Hebrides, was a Franco-British Condominium (a territory with shared sovereignty) from 1906 to 1980. Nowhere else on earth were two colonial powers sharing an island. (Well, they of course first competed for it, before deciding to rule it jointly.)
While the former colony maintained formal relations with France after gaining independence, two little inhabited rocky islands known as Matthew and Hunter became the cause of a maritime boundary issue between the two nations.
In 1976, prior to Vanuatu’s/New Hebrides’ independence, France annexed Matthew and Hunter islands to New Caledonia rather than keep them in the New Hebrides condominium. The Vanuatu government of the time rejected French sovereignty over the islands and planted the Vanuatu flag on Hunter Island in 1993 but a French patrol vessel prevented the party from reaching Matthew Island. France nowadays maintains a naval presence and an automated weather station on Matthew.
In 2009, the Vanuatu Prime Minister and the independence movement of New Caledonia, the FLNKS, signed a document – with no legal value – recognizing the Vanuatu sovereignty over Matthew and Hunter islands. This gesture is all the more surprising given that France has always stated that the two islands belong to the territory of New Caledonia, and that Vanuatu’s economy is largely supported by French development aid, as well as aid from Iceland, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and others.
But in Vanuatu, the legends associated with these southern islands demonstrate the importance of these two islands in the Ni-Vanuatu (Vanuatu people) tradition. Matthew is known as the “House of the Gods” where the spirits of the dead go rest. Ni-Vanuatu speak of traveling regularly from the islands of the Vanuatu archipelago to Hunter and Matthew, singing and dancing when they were on one or the other of the two islands in dispute today. On the other hand, there is no known legend of these islands in New Caledonia.
Vanuatu claims that the two islands are part of its archipelago based on its offered geological and cartographic evidence. Those two islets are even being fought for before the UN under terms of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
The dispute spilled has also unsettled relations with neighbors. In 1982, for example, Fiji and New Caledonia signed an agreement on mutual recognition of their maritime boundaries, in which Fiji recognized French ownership of the Matthew and Hunter Islands. The action upset Vanuatu, which demanded that Fiji recognize Ni-Vanuatu sovereignty over the islands, stating that failure to do so would be a blow to peace in the region, but Fiji did not revoke its signature. Oh, I almost forgot: Hunter Island is also unofficially claimed by the micronation Republic of Lostisland, which undertook an expedition to the island in July 2012. Lostisland is an international project generally classified as a micronation, with citizens from all over the world aiming to achieve the independence and sovereignty of the Hunter Island. But the likelihood of it impacting New Caledonian or Ni-Vanuatu claims is nil.
For all the fuss, the Matthew and Hunter Islands are two little volcanic islets that look pretty boring from above. See for yourself:
Nor are they big – Matthew is 0.1km² and Hunter 0.4km². So why are they so important for France? Is it because they are a sanctuary for the terns and playground for the studies of meteorologists and ornithologists? Of course not. France dreams of extending its sovereign rights over an additional 2,000,000km².
But it is serious business – at stake are the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons and rare metals, as well fishery resources. The exact resource contents of these areas will have to be determined by further scientific studies. It is clearly a bet for the future.
To take advantage of these potential riches, France filed extension requests for fourteen geographical areas with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf of the United Nations in 2009. A special French interdepartmental program (steering committee composed of seven departments) called Extraplac was created in 2002 to prepare for all potential expansion areas, without studying fisheries or mineral resources. Extraplac could also present common issues with other coastal states sharing the same continental shelf.
But the extension of the continental shelf would involve substantial financial resources to ensure the protection and control of the newly acquired areas, but the deep cut in the finances of the Ministry of Defense does not make this possible at the moment. A final problem exists. Article 121 of UNCLOS states that “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own, have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.” However, the story of the inhabited Clipperton islet in the North Pacific with its 431,015 km² big EEZ shows that France, like many, has a broad interpretation of the ability to sustain economic life.
At the same time, Article 47 of UNCLOS states that an archipelagic State may draw straight baselines “joining the outermost points of the outermost islands and drying reefs of the archipelago provided that within such baselines are included the main islands.” As such a state, if Vanuatu can also claim Matthew and Hunter islands as part of its territory and archipelago, it would be able to draw its baseline to the islands and thereby extend its EEZ from the islands without concern for Article 121.
It’s important to note that the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is charged with making recommendations to states, based on scientific evidence, on demarcating continental shelves (thereby conferring rights) when these shelves exceed the standard 200nm EEZ. However, it is up to the states themselves to enact the recommendations and settle the territorial claims.
Pretty interesting stuff happens in the South Pacific, huh?
Alix is a writer, researcher, and correspondent on the Asia-Pacific region for Marine Renewable Energy LTD. She previously served as a maritime policy advisor to the New Zealand Consul General in New Caledonia and as the French Navy’s Deputy Bureau Chief for State Action at Sea, New Caledonia Maritime Zone.