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The relationship between the length of the coastline and the delimitation of the continental shelf in the seas

The relationship between the length of the coastline and the delimitation of the continental shelf in the seas Legal Issues

The relationship between the length of the coastline and the delimitation of the continental shelf in the seas

International Institute of Khazar Studies (IIKSS) – the relationship between the length of the coastline and the delimitation of the continental shelf in the seas; What is the length of the coastline of the Caspian Sea countries? The method for delimitation of the continental shelf on the basis of the coastline length of countries.

1: What is the relationship between the length of the coastline and the delimitation of the continental shelf?

One of the most important factors in the equitable delimitation of the continental shelf in the seas is the extent and length of the coasts of the claimant states.

This issue is derived from Customary International Law, which has been referred to in various decisions of the International Court of Justice. In decisions of the Court, the length of the coastline of the countries is presented as one of the examples of the equity principle.

The purpose of the review of issues, such as the length of the coastline of countries and the comparison of the coastlines of countries is to modify unfair and inequitable results from the geometric delimitation of the continental shelf.

Therefore, any country with more coastal length can have more continental shelf, but it should be noted that this customary rule in international law is applicable under the following conditions:

The claimant countries are located in adjacency or in opposite to each other, and for each of them cannot be determined a width of 200 miles or more as the continental shelf.

The delimitation of the continental shelf is based on use of the Median Line or equidistance, reflected in Article 6 of the Convention on the Continental Shelf, 1958.

2: What cases does the International Court of Justice point to?

The Court refers to this issue in the North Sea case between Denmark, Netherlands and Germany, in the Libya and Malta Case in the Mediterranean Sea, in the Libya and Tunisia case in the Mediterranean Sea, in the Qatar and Bahrain case in the Persian Gulf, in the Romania and Ukraine case in the Black Sea.

The Court in these decisions refers to this general legal principle that 'the land dominates the sea'. According to this principle, the extent of the rights of states in the seas depends on the size of their land and their territorial position.

The Court also recognizes that in some cases, the length of the coastline may not be significantly related to the delimitation of the continental shelf, such as the Nicaragua and Honduras case in the Caribbean Sea.

3: What is the basis for calculating coastal length?

The Court in the Black Sea case based on the existing procedures and the principles governing international law defines the method of determining the length of the coastline. The Court recognizes that in the delimitation of the continental shelf, the following should be noted:

The calculation of the relevant coasts: the only coasts related to a disputed area can be the basis for calculating coastal length. These coasts include the opposite coast and the adjacent coast. For example, the claimed area should be located in the opposite of the disputed coastal area, and if the coastal area is located back to the disputed area, it is not considered as a relevant coast.

Considering the overlapping coasts: The coasts that are aligned with each other due to the existence of the Firth and Gulf, can be considered in calculations only once.

Using the straight line formula in determining the coastline: in drawing and determining the coastline should be used the straight line formula, so that if the gap of the mouth of the Firths and Gulfs is less than 12 miles, then the length of the coastline in the Firths and Gulfs should be ignored.

4: Where are the areas claimed by the parties in the Caspian Sea?

It should be noted that, firstly, the Caspian littoral States are not members of the Law of the Sea Convention 1982, and secondly, some lawyers believe that the Caspian Sea, which is a lake, cannot and should not be included in the Convention. But it should be noted that so far the legal nature of this sea has remained in an aura of ambiguity and it cannot be said that this sea is a closed sea or an enclosed sea. Also we cannot make excuse that the Caspian Sea is a closed sea or a lake and for this reason ignore international procedures of delimitation of the continental shelf. Because in any situation we are forced to delimit the continental shelf of the Caspian Sea.

The three countries of Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in the southern part of the Caspian Sea, known as the Southern Block or Block No. 3, have different claims in terms of delimiting the continental shelf.

5: What is the length of the coast of the countries of the Southern Block of the Caspian Sea?

The longitude of the coasts of Caspian littoral states is as follows:

Iran (657 km)

Azerbaijan (820 km)

Russia (1355 km)

Kazakhstan (1900 km)

Turkmenistan (1768 km)

The coastal length that referred to is the coastal longitude, while the rules for determination of coastal length in the Law of the Seas is different. If the rules stated in court decisions, including:

           use of “the middle line formula",

           observance of "the overlapping coasts" and

           relying on "the relevant coasts"

are taken into account, then, the size of the effective coasts of the three countries - Iran, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan in proportion to the southern part of the Caspian Sea will be very different in comparison to what is said.

More precisely, the legal length of the coastline is different from the geographical length of the coastline. If, in accordance with the general principles of international law and the customs recognized by the International Court of Justice, we will calculate coastlines of the Caspian littoral countries, we will see that the length of the coastline of the countries will be as follows:

Iran (621 km)

Azerbaijan (346 km)

Turkmenistan (407 km)

As a result, the length of the relevant coasts of Iran with 621 kilometers can play a decisive role in delimiting the continental shelf of the southern Caspian Sea, and this is more than the length of the coastline of Turkmenistan with 407 kilometers and Azerbaijan with 346 kilometers. However, from a geographic point of view, Turkmenistan has 1768 km of coastline and Azerbaijan - 820 km.

Author - Maysam Araee Daronkola - member of the faculty of the University Payame Noor and the director of the International Institute of Khazar Sea Studies (IIKSS), PhD of public international law

Translator: Mohsen Hamidi - expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, translator of Russian language and member of the Scientific Council of the International Institute of Khazar Sea Studies (IIKSS)

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