The need for comprehensive maritime ownership laws came to a head
in the late 1960s, when manganese nodules were discovered on global
deep ocean floors. These nodules contained magnesium, copper, minerals
and some very valuable hard metals that were extremely useful in
the Cold War for use in missiles and rockets.
As a result, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution establishing
deep ocean resources as a benefit for all of mankind.
was the seed for the third U.N. convention on laws of the sea in
1972," said Chris Carleton, head of the Law of the Sea Division
at the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office.
conference spanned a 10-year period and included all the nations
in the U.N., including land locked countries, which were given rights
to the resources of the world's seas."
Issues such as navigation, economic zones, resources of the deep
oceans, transfer of technology and scientific research were studied,
debated and decided over the next 10 years, and by 1982 a comprehensive
set of laws was established.
Unfortunately, by the early 1990s none of the industrialized nations
had ratified the convention.
convention was originally written under the government-owned model,
which meant it was a big operation run by the U.N. through a huge
seabed authority," Carleton said. "By the 1990s that wasn't going
to work, so the U.N. had to change that aspect of the program without
changing the tenants of the convention."
The result: The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea
came into power in 1994, covering a wide array of maritime issues.
Among those issues is article 76, "Definition of the Continental
Shelf." This article requires action from coastal states to secure
maximum territorial advantage and resource potential, and provides
technical guidance in the process of claiming continental shelf
beyond 200 nautical miles if there is a "natural prolongation" of
the coastal state's landmass outside of that distance.
The section describes how the outer limit of the continental shelf
may be defined according to the position of the foot of the continental
slope and either geodetic measurements or patterns of sediment thickness
variation oceanward of the slope.
Bathymetry charts of the world's oceans margins suggest many shallow
areas of seafloor may readily constitute "natural prolongations,"
since they developed along rifted passive margins during break up.
Also, volcanic ridges, which form an intimate component of a continental
margin, and local sediment thickness anomalies, such as deltas and
fans, are likely to constitute "natural prolongations."