By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN – A major new claim that will extend the country’s current rights to oil and gas and minerals under the Atlantic seabed by about a third is being prepared by officials in the Marine Department.
The area involved is about three times the size of the land area of the country.
The extension of sovereignty to cover huge new tracts of the continental shelf could lead to the exploitation of huge sub-sea riches for the country in the future.
Specialists in the Department’s petroleum affairs division hope to complete technical work on the claim by the end of the year, according to a Department of Marine spokesman.
Since 1968, Ireland has had rights to an Exclusive Economic Zone out to 200 miles from shore that covers about 230,000 squares miles.
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Ireland’s offshore area already dwarfs the land area, which is 27,000 square miles.
Under a new claims procedure being overseen by a special UN body called the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), Ireland is allowed to seek sovereignty out beyond the current 200-mile limit to a maximum of 350 miles or 100 miles from a depth of 8,200 feet.
About 80,000 square miles of seabed, most of it the Rockall Trough and Hatton Basin areas off the northwest coast, could be involved in the claim under the procedures.
As the technology for exploiting finds under the seabed in deep waters develops, Ireland could reap a huge bounty in minerals, natural gas, oil, diamonds and gold as well as less valuable gravel, coral and sand deposits.
Under the CLCS agreement, up to 7 percent of the value of what would be produced would have to go to other UN countries that don’t have a coastline or continental shelf.
Ireland is amongst an estimated 60 states around the world that have substantial areas of continental shelf off their coasts that entitle them to lodge a claim.
Millions of euros have already been spent by the Government gathering complex scientific data for the claim. These include a seismic survey to probe the seabed and a bathymetric survey to check on water depths.
“The work has technical, geophysical and legal aspects and all of these are being progressed,” the spokesman said, “The technical work on the submission should be completed during 2002.”
However, the CLCS will not deal with a claim if there is a dispute with another country about the seabed involved.
Ireland and Britain agreed on sea borders in 1988. But part of the seabed involved in the new claim is counter-claimed by Iceland and the Danish-owned F’roe Islands.
“In the south-west, a much smaller area could also be subject to counter-claims,” the spokesman said, “Efforts have been made to try and resolve these issues or at least discuss them with the parties concerned.”