Agreement Reached in Long-Disputed Maritime Border

On Thursday, September 20, 2007, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Tribunal released its ruling on the long-disputed maritime border between Guyana and Suriname. The Guyana-Suriname Basin, over which the two countries are fighting, is estimated to hold as much as 15 billion barrels of oil and gas reserves. The members of the Arbitral Tribunal included H.E. Judge L. Dolliver M. Nelson, President, Professor Thomas M. Franck, Dr. Kamal Hossain, Professor Ivan Shearer, and Professor Hans Smit. The Tribunal’s decision came after many years of dispute between the two South American countries that escalated to Guyana bringing a formal complaint to the Tribunal on February 24, 2004.

Suriname claimed a maritime boundary that began on the Corentyne River’s west bank, which extends at N10°E, while Guyana claimed a maritime boundary that extended from N33°E. See the map of the disputed boundary here .This dispute intensified in 2000 when Suriname sent gunboats to force a CGX Energy Inc., a Canadian company that had been granted a license to build a drilling platform by Guyana, out of the area. After this incident, the two countries attempted to reach an agreement on their own regarding the maritime border, but when those attempts failed, Guyana lodged a formal complaint with the Tribunal in 2004. The Tribunal’s decision last week shows that CGX Energy had been in Guyana’s area.

The Tribunal chose to follow an “equidistant” method in deciding the maritime border: “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.” Suriname argued that “the equidistance method does not produce an equitable result when employed in these geographic circumstances” and its “preferred method was the bisection of the angle formed by the adjacent coastal fronts of Suriname and Guyana which extends from the coast at N17°E.” However, the Tribunal concluded that there were not “any relevant circumstances in the continental shelf or exclusive economic zone which would require an adjustment to the provisional equidistance line.”

As stated by Foley Hoag, the law firm that represented Guyana in the dispute, “According to the terms of the tribunal's ruling, Guyana gains sovereignty of some 12,837-square miles of the coastal waters; Suriname receives its own portion, of approximately 6,900 square miles.” The new boundary can be seen on the map here. Both countries are pleased with the ruling. In a speech on September 20, the President of Guyana, Bharrat Jadgeo, stated, “The Award has taken Guyana's major arguments fully into account, and now allows our licensees to resume their petroleum exploration activities in the part of the sea that Guyana has claimed, in accordance with international law. The great achievement of the Award is to open up before Guyana and Suriname the prospect of practical harmonious cooperation in their economic development and in their relations as good neighbors.”

The entire text of the Tribunal’s ruling can be found here.