Reflections on the Letter of Intent for Cooperation on the Pikialasorsuaq: What does it legally mean for the Inuit?

By: Apostolos Tsiouvalas (PhD Fellow at NCLOS, Faculty of Law, UiT The Arctic University of Norway).


Matter commented onLetter of Intent for Cooperation on the Pikialasorsuaq between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of Canada and the Ministry of Agriculture, Self-sufficiency, Energy and Environment of the Government of Greenland


The North Water Polynya Pikialasorsuaq (meaning Great Upwelling) is a polynya between Greenland and Nunavut in northern Baffin Bay that constitutes the most biologically productive region within the Arctic Circle. The area is characterized by impressive migratory patterns of birds and mammals tightly linked to the Polynya’s morphology, on which most of West Greenland’s access to living resources is currently relied. Historically, the Pikialasorsuaq has been vital for the subsistence of the adjacent Inuit communities, providing sustenance to the entire marine ecosystem of Baffin Bay and associated communities of Qikiqtani (Nunavut) and Avanersuaq (Northwest Greenland), which directly depend on the Polynya’s biological productivity (Report of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission, p. A-5). Hunting routes across the Polynya and historic sites (e.g. food caches) are considered an integral part of Pikialasorsuaq’s transboundary ecosystem. The literature further records that the Inuit of Pikialasorsuaq conceive of the frozen sea as an entity that extends beyond state-enforced maritime boundaries and they have traditionally been operating cross-border activities among the Greenlandic and Canadian coasts of the Polynya on the basis of customary utilization of the sea/sea-ice continuum. Throughout the 20th century, the Inughuit of Avanersuaq intensively practiced hunting trips to the opposite coast of the Polynya. After the repopulation of Aujuittuq (Grise Fiord) in Nunavut, Inughuit hunters visited Aujuittuq by dogsleds and more recently by planes landing on sea ice, developing strong cultural and spiritual bonds with the Inuit groups on the Canadian side of the Polynya (Report of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission, p. A-6).  As explained by the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), the international body that represents all Inuit from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka, “considering the intimate connections and interactions between Inuit, animals, and Pikialasorsaq, the region that is affected by the polynya extends far past its physical boundaries.” (Report of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission, p, A-23). In recent decades, the situation however has changed substantially with the Pikialasorsuaq ecosystem facing challenges posed by climate change and rising human activity in the region. In addition, navigating international borders within the Pikialasorsuaq region is currently more difficult for the Inuit, primarily due to heightened safety and security regulations linked to international travel.

Read more: Reflections on the Letter of Intent for Cooperation on the Pikialasorsuaq: What does it legally mean for the Inuit?

On October 19, 2023, on the margins of the Arctic Circle Assembly, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and the Minister of Agriculture, Self-Sufficiency, Energy and Environment of Greenland signed a Letter of Intent for Cooperation on the Pikialasorsuaq, which seems to signify an important step towards the collaboration of Canada and Greenland with regards to the Pikialasorsuaq. This blog post explores the context behind this development and seeks to examine the potential legal implications of the Letter of Intent for the Inuit of the Pikialasorsuaq region.

  1. Legal Background

The maritime boundary between the Kingdom of Denmark (in relation to Greenland) and Canada was established with the 1973 Delimitation Agreement, which deliberately left without a determined boundary the area between the geodetic points 122 and 123 where Hans Island is located. The latter was only delimited in June 2022, creating a 3,962 km long maritime boundary which is currently the longest in the world. The boundary cuts through the Pikialasorsuaq Polynya and reduces Inuit activities on both sides to a certain geographical area determined by the respective states’ maritime zones and hunting quotas based on domestic and international law. In addition, increased securitization by Canadian authorities, who at times conceived of the Greenlandic Inuit presence in Ellesmere as a threat to Canadian sovereignty over its Arctic archipelago, imposed restrictions to the mobility patterns of the hunters since the middle of the 20th century –  with the last organized exchange between the populations of both sides of the Polynya taking place in 1994 (Report of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission, p. A-6). Since the 1990s, when the last formal travel exchanges between the two groups of Inuit located on the opposite sides of the Pikialasorsuaq took place, traveling has become much more difficult due to increased costs, taxation and intensified securitization in both sides of the Polynya (especially after the tragedy of 9/11), that eventually resulted to the cessation of free transit for Inuit families in both sides.

Canada and Greenland currently share jurisdiction in the North Water Polynya, which has implications for the international conservation and management of marine mammals and seabirds. The importance of joint management of the marine environment between the two states was verified in the 1983 Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the Kingdom of Denmark for Cooperation Relating to the Marine Environment, aiming to increase “bilateral cooperation in respect of the protection of the marine environment”. Regional collaboration between Greenland and Canada for management of shared marine mammal species has also been successful over the last few decades. First, Canada and Greenland signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the Conservation and Management of Narwhal and Beluga in Baffin Bay in 1989. Second,  the Government of Canada, the Government of Nunavut, and the Government of Greenland adopted a MOU for the Conservation and Management of Polar Bear Populations in 2009. The 2009 MOU established a joint commission largely consisted of Inuit representatives of both sides to provide recommendations on total allowable harvest and fair division of the shared harvest of the shared polar bear population in Kane Basin and Baffin Bay. Denmark is not party to any of these MOUs, as Greenland holds exclusive jurisdiction on natural resource management, judicial affairs and policing, while the Kingdom of Denmark maintains jurisdiction for foreign affairs and defense matters.

  • The 2016 Pikialasorsuaq Commission

To address the future of Pikialasorsuaq in light of a changing Arctic and to negotiate an Inuit-led co-management regime for the Polynya, the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Greenland (ICC Greenland) together with the respective department of Canada (ICC Canada) established in January 2016 the Pikialasorsuaq Commission, through a project funded for three years. The Pikialasorsuaq Commission published in 2017 a report that addressed emerging issues pertinent to the region’s peoples and ecosystem and concluded with three main recommendations for policymakers. The recommendations referred to: a) the establishment of an Inuit Management Authority (IMA) led by Inuit representatives from communities in the Pikialasorsuaq region to regulate various activities, including transportation, shipping, and off-shore industrial development; b) the establishment of a protected area comprised of the Polynya itself and including a larger management zone, monitored and managed by Inuit; and c) the establishment of a free travel zone for Inuit across the Pikialasorsuaq (Report of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission, p. A-20).

In 2022, ICC Greenland entered into a cooperation agreement with Oceans North Kalaallit Nunaat and a task force was established to promote the work of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission. The task force aimed to ensure its recommendations are recognized and eventually implemented by the Greenlandic government. While the implementation phase of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission’s work has started and negotiations on freedom of movement for Inuit to visit friends and family across the border are underway, cross-border hunting for the Inuit of both sides has not yet been established by state law and is nowadays limited to each state’s EEZ and remains strictly controlled by domestic hunting legislations. The Pikialasorsuaq Commission’s project is currently in the second phase, working on the development of an implementation plan, in consultation with the appropriate authorities and based on the recommendations and information gathered by the Pikialasorsuaq Commission in the first phase.

  • What does the Letter of Intent for Cooperation on the Pikialasorsuaq mean for the Inuit?

The 2023 Letter of Intent for Cooperation on the Pikialasorsuaq marked an important step for Canada and Greenland to join forces regarding Pikialasorsuaq. A Letter of Intent (LOI) is a written document prepared when two parties have reached a mutual understanding but have not fully detailed out all the specifics. This document is often presented before a final legal agreement, meaning a LOI lacks binding force. Nevertheless, it serves as an expression of political commitment between the parties and outlines the terms they intend to subsequently adhere to. Although lacking thus binding force, the LOI for Cooperation on the Pikialasorsuaq demonstrates political will from both Greenland and Canada to continue joint efforts to manage the Pikialasorsuaq ecosystem and adjacent Inuit communities.

The LOI acknowledges all previous bilateral agreements and joint efforts (including single-species management) with respect to the Pikialasorsuaq area and provides for the establishment of a “joint Pikialasorsuaq steering committee” across Canada and Greenland, with representation from Inuit and national governments on both sides. As of the LOI, the mandate of the Steering Committee would be to “develop instruments and common foundations for management of the area”. While further details about the actual scope of the wording of this objective are not provided in the LOI, it seems that this objective resonates with the first recommendation of the 2017 Pikialasorsuaq Commission report that suggested the establishment of a common Inuit-led management authority for the area (Report of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission, p. A-20). In the LOI, the two parties further express their intention to share relevant existing scientific information among the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in Canada, and hunter and user knowledge in Greenland. They also intend to commit to cooperation on research and monitoring of the Pikialasorsuaq ecosystem, exchange information from consultations with local representatives of both sides of the Polynya and refer questions that fall wholly or partially outside of their areas of competence or outside the terms of the LOI for separate discussion with relevant authorities.

Thus, a joint Pikialasorsuaq Steering Committee may have only limited mandate in relation to the management of the area, and mainly focus on carrying out consultations, providing scientific advising, and increasing engagement between local hunters and public authorities. That said, the second and third recommendations of the 2017 Pikialasorsauq Commission report on establishing a protected area led by Inuit and allowing Inuit cross-border activities to travel or hunt seem to not be reflected in the LOI. The right of Indigenous peoples to trans-boundary activities in the sea is yet recognized under international law. For example, article 14(1) of the  ILO Convention 169 to which Denmark is a party recognizes the rights of nomadic Indigenous communities ‘to use lands [and marine areas] not exclusively occupied by them, but to which they have traditionally had access for their subsistence and traditional activities’. Article 32 of the ILO Convention 169 further provides that governments ‘shall take appropriate measures, including by means of intern ational agreements, to facilitate contacts and cooperation between Indigenous and tribal peoples across borders, including activities in the economic, social, cultural, spiritual and environmental fields’. Similarly, Article 25 of the UNDRIP, which is endorsed both by Canada and Denmark, obliges states to recognize the rights of Indigenous peoples to ‘maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual [and cultural] relationship with their traditionally… used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources’. Article 36(1) of the UNDRIP further stipulates that: ‘Indigenous peoples, in particular those divided by international borders, have the right to maintain and develop contacts, relations and cooperation, including activities for spiritual, cultural, political, economic and social purposes, with their own members as well as other peoples across borders’. Legal protection of Inuit traditional fishing and hunting rights in a transboundary context is also provided in international law of the sea litigation, inter alia, under the doctrine of vested rights [e.g. South China Sea Arbitration, para 808].

Allowance of transboundary activities for the Inuit of Pikialasorsuaq could, however, not find any legal resonance with the existing development in place, as the LOI’s scope is generally broad and does not touch upon any such issues. This is further manifested through Denmark’s lack of participation in the LOI. Considering that for any question dealing with sovereignty, security, delimitation or border issues the Kingdom holds jurisdiction, Denmark should also have been involved in signing the LOI, should such a development be aimed at regulating cross-border Inuit activities.

  • Conclusions

It has been approximately seven years since the Pikialasorsuaq Commission was first established, with the region surrounding the North Water Polynya increasingly experiencing paramount socio-ecological changes. Given the LOI’s limited scope and non-binding character, it is difficult to assess what the establishment of a joint Pikialasorsuaq Steering Committee may mean in practice for the Inuit of Pikialasorsuaq. Yet, it demonstrates another step of political will expressed from both sides to acknowledge the Inuit peoples’ relationship to the Pikialasorsuaq and consider the 2017 proposals made by the Pikialasorsuaq Commission. Just about a year before the LOI was signed, the 2022 Hans Island agreement was adopted. The latter explicitly ensured rights for the Inuit of both Nunavut and Greenland to freedom of movement throughout the tiny limestone Hans Island (Tartupaluk) for “hunting, fishing and other related cultural, traditional, historic and future activities”. While the agreement over the uninhabited island may have a more symbolic rather than pragmatic value for traditional activities, the adoption of the 2023 LOI shows a second significant intention by public authorities to acknowledge the integrity of Inuit territories. Thus, whereas the recent LOI could be seen as a point of departure for future transboundary legal developments in the Arctic, time will show what the intention may mean in practice.

This post may be cited as: Apostolos Tsiouvalas, “Reflections on the Letter of Intent for Cooperation on the Pikialasorsuaq: What does it mean for the Inuit?” ( 31 October 2023), online:

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Deep-Sea Minerals Exploitation: The 2-Year Rule Deadline is Running Out, What Happens Next?

By: Maria Madalena das Neves (Associate Professor at NCLOS, Faculty of Law, UiT-The Arctic University of Norway)


Matter commented on:  ISA draft exploitation regulations and the 2-Year rule

  1. Introduction

Nauru invoked  the ‘two-year rule’ enshrined in section 1(15)(b) of the Annex to the 1994 Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI of UNCLOS (Part XI Agreement) on 25 June 2021 and announced the intentions of Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI) to apply for the approval of a plan of work for exploitation. This effectively put the International Seabed Authority (ISA) under the clock to complete the adoption of rules, regulations and procedures (RRPs) for exploitation activities by 9 July 2023. When the Council of the ISA fails to complete and adopt the RRPs within this deadline, and if application for approval of a plan of work is pending, then, in accordance with section 1(15)(c) of Part XI Agreement, the Council “shall none the less consider and provisionally approve such plan of work based on the provisions of the Convention [UNCLOS] and any [RRPs] that the Council may have adopted provisionally, or on the basis of the norms contained in the Convention and the terms and principles contained in this Annex [to the Part XI Agreement] as well as the principle of non-discrimination among contractors”.

Blog Oil and gas Security law

The Nord Stream Pipelines through the Lens of Law and Geopolitics

By: Timo Koivurova (Research Professor at Arctic Centre, University of Lapland); Theresa Winkel (Doctoral Researcher at the Faculty of Law, University of Lapland)


Matter commented on: Regulation of Nord Stream Pipelines

  1. Introduction

In the realm of European energy security, few topics have sparked as much debate and controversy as the Nord Stream pipelines. The two projects, consisting of Nord Stream 1 and the more recent Nord Stream 2, are known as one of Europe’s most significant energy infrastructure projects. Different from other pipelines, the intention behind the parallel pipelines was to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany, only transiting maritime zones (but no land territory of other states) on its Baltic Sea route. However, it is not only the size of the overall project that will be remembered for years to come, but also the political tensions, legal challenges, heated discussions on the potential implications for regional energy security and geopolitical dynamics, including the 2022 blasts that caused severe damage to both pipelines.


The last bottle of the Whisky-War: A commentary on the boundary delimitation agreement on disputed areas between Canada and Denmark (Greenland)

By: Signe Veierud Busch

Matter commented on: The Boundary Delimitation Agreement on disputed areas between Canada and Denmark (Greenland)

PDF Version:

For almost a Century, Hans Island has been the object of an ongoing sovereignty dispute between Canada and Denmark (Greenland), and since the 1980s the parties have fought a position war, armed with Whisky and Schnapps. On Tuesday 14 June Canada, Denmark and Greenland signed a delimitation agreement settling the long-lasting boundary dispute between Canada and Denmark (Greenland).

The agreement is a package deal, which encompasses a final delimitation between Canada and Denmark (Greenland), delimiting the maritime areas within 200 nautical miles from the baselines in the Lincoln Sea and the Labrador Sea. In addition, the agreement settles the sovereignty dispute over Hans Island in the Kennedy Channel.

The image shows a map section containing parts of Canada and Greenland, between the two landmasses the maritime border is marked.
Photo: Foreign Ministry of Denmark

An equitable solution

Articles 74 and 83 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provide that all States are to seek an equitable solution in the delimitation of maritime areas subject to overlapping claims. The UNCLOS does not provide any further guidance on how the States should proceed in their negotiations towards reaching such solutions.

However, a relatively consistent practice has developed through a considerable body of case law, where a three-stage approach is applied. The first step is to draw a line at an equal distance from the closest points on the coasts of each of the parties. This provisionally drawn equidistance line is the result of an objective, geometric process, and serves as a practical starting point in many delimitation processes. The provisional equidistance line is then adjusted, taking into account relevant circumstances, that call for the adjustment of the provisional equidistance line in order to achieve an equitable result. Finally, the preliminary line is subject to a test of disproportionality, to verify that the adjusted equidistance line does not  “lead to an inequitable result by reason of any marked disproportion [for example] between the ratio of the respective coastal lengths and the ratio between the relevant maritime area of each State by reference to the delimitation line” (Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea (Romania v. Ukraine) (Judgment) [2009] ICJ Rep 61, 103 [122].

Although the three-stage approach is primarily developed for the settlement of maritime delimitation disputes by the judiciary, it is also frequently used in maritime delimitation negotiations.

The end of the Whisky War

Hans Island is an uninhabited lime-stone island covering 1.3 square kilometres, situated in the Kennedy Channel, within 12 nm from the coast of both Canada and Denmark (Greenland), and is accordingly part of both States’ claims of territorial waters. When Canada and Denmark (Greenland) negotiated their boundaries in 1973, they were unable to agree on the issue of sovereignty over Hans Island. The 1973 agreement accordingly leaves Hans Island out, and explicitly provides in Article 2 (2) that “the dividing line shall be of two series of geodesic lines joining from the following points”, where series A is measured from point No. 114-122, and Series B is measured from point  No. 123-127. There is no boundary between point 122 and 123, where Hans Island is located.

The conflict over Hans Island has become known as the “Whisky War” since 1984, when Canadian troops planted a flag on the island, a sign saying “welcome to Canada” and left a bottle of Canadian whisky. When the Danish Minister of Greenland visited the island later the same year, he replaced the Canadian offerings with a Danish flag, a bottle of Danish schnapps and a letter saying “Welcome to the Danish island”. Since then, there have been numerous trips to the island from both parties to replace the other side’s offerings. The humorous undertone aside, the parties have until now not been able to agree who has sovereignty over the Island. The island itself has little economic value, and as the parties’ maritime sones in the Kennedy Channel were agreed upon in 1973, the delimitation of the island itself does not have large consequences for the parties. However, the Kennedy Channel and Hans Island may become more important if global warming makes it possible to establish a sea route from the North Atlantic Ocean to the Arctic Ocean west of Greenland.

The delimitation agreement solves the Hans Island Sovereignty dispute, dividing the island between Canada and Denmark (Greenland). The considerations discussed by the parties are not known to the public. The agreed border does provide some clues, as the limit appears to be drawn along the natural ridges on Hans Island. This delimitation method is familiar both from the law of the sea and from other land demarcation.

79 000 square kilometres of overlapping entitlements in the Labrador Sea

In addition to achieving a final solution for Hans Island, Canada and Denmark (Greenland) have also concluded the remaining of the unresolved maritime boundaries between the two States, including the geographical areas southwest and northwest of Greenland.

UNCLOS Article 57 provides a right for coastal states to establish an exclusive economic zone in an area up to 200 nautical miles measured from the coastal baseline. In addition, coastal states’ entitlement to the continental shelf may continue beyond 200 nm if the continental margin continues beyond such distance (Article 76). The Labrador Sea is an arm of the North Atlantic Ocean between the Labrador Peninsula and Greenland, where the entitlements provided by the UNCLOS resulted in an 79 000 square kilometres area of overlapping claims of Canada and Denmark (Greenland), which is now delimited between the parties.

The parties have not disclosed the rationale behind the negotiated delimitation line in the Labrador Sea, but a close study of the official map suggests that the delimitation is based on an equidistance line, with some minor adjustments taking into account relevant circumstances. The parties accordingly seem to have based their negotiation on the recognized three-stage approach, as a means to achieve an equitable solution as provided in UNCLOS articles 74 and 83.

Indicating a direction for the future delimitation of the Central Arctic Ocean

The parties have also succeeded in establishing a common delimitation line in the Lincoln Sea, a body of water in the Arctic Ocean. The limit is based on a preliminary boundary agreement from 2012, and has finally been provided a permanent status in the 2022 maritime delimitation agreement between Canada and Denmark (Greenland).

In the Lincoln Sea, the parties have apparently confined themselves to applying an objective approach to establish an equidistance line between themselves. This sends a very important political signal, indicating that both Canada and Denmark (Greenland) most likely will argue for the application of an equidistance approach also further north, in the Arctic Ocean, where the Danish and the Canadian continental shelf both allegedly overlap with areas subject to Russian claim of entitlement.  

The geopolitical side-effects of the delimitation agreement

The agreement dividing Hans Island and the delimitation of the disputed maritime areas are not only of symbolic value, but also of great practical significance for the parties. The negotiated agreement is of particular importance for the Inuit settlement of Ausuittuq in Canada and the Greenlandic settlement of Qaanaaq, and contributes to laying the foundations for a closer and broader cooperation between Canada and Greenland. The ambition of future cooperation and mobility between the States is explicitly included in the agreement. The delimitation comes shortly after Canada, Denmark and five other Arctic states announced their intent to resume Arctic cooperation in projects that do not involve Russian participation. At a time when the international legal order is under severe pressure, and there is an increasing concern relating to the extent to which States will comply with their obligations under international law, the delimitation agreement between Canada and Denmark (Greenland) demonstrates that the Arctic states have a strong will and commitment to follow up their obligations under the Law of the Sea and the Ilulissat Declaration of 2008.

Biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ)

Towards Normative Coherence in the International Law of the Sea for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction

By: Anna-Maria Hubert and Neil Craik

PDF-version: Towards Normative Coherence in the International Law of the Sea for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction

Document commented on: International legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, A/RES/72/249, provisionally available as document A/72/L.7.

This past November, based on the recommendations of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) established under General Assembly Resolution 69/292, the UN General Assembly agreed in Resolution 72/249 to convene an intergovernmental conference ‘to consider the recommendations of the preparatory committee on the elements and to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, with a view to developing the instrument as soon as possible’ (para 1).

One of the many unresolved issues to be faced in the upcoming negotiations concerns how a new legal instrument will be situated within an increasingly dense, and fragmented, legal and institutional landscape. The Chair’s Overview of the Third PrepCom Session highlights the relationship between agreements as an important cross-cutting issue, stating that ‘going forward, it would be useful to further consider how to articulate the relationship between a new instrument and the arrangements established there under with relevant legal instruments and frameworks and relevant global, regional and sectoral bodies’ (page 5).

This blog post offers some thoughts on how a new legal instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) can be conceived of within the wider legal and institutional landscape of the law of the sea and public international law. Specifically, it explores the question of what relationship a new legal instrument should have to other relevant agreements, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC).

Marine pollution

Did the latest Resolution on Marine Plastic Litter and Microplastics take us any closer to pollution-free oceans?

By: Linda Finska

PDF version:

Document commented on: United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme, Resolution on Marine Litter and Microplastics, UNEP/EA.3/L.20, Third Session, 4-6 December 2017

According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish by weight in our oceans if the business-as-usual-model continues. The latest United Nations Environment Assembly addressed this alarming scenario in its Resolution on Marine Litter and Microplastics. But does the resolution take us any closer to concrete solutions? Arguably, it does not. The resolution highlights the urgency of the issue and encourages Member States and stakeholders to take action. Admittedly, it builds momentum to address the issue but fails to provide credible solutions.

Background to the Resolution

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is the governing body of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and globally the highest-level decision-making body on environmental issues. It has the universal membership of all 193 UN Member States. The UNEA has its origins with the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 and was finally established at the Rio+12 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. The Resolutions of the UNEA are not legally binding on Member States. However, the biennial Environment Assemblies have an important role in guiding policies and setting priorities concerning global environmental issues.

Delimitation International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)

Opposite or adjacent – does it make a difference? Delimiting the continental shelf beyond 200 nm

By: Signe Veierud Busch

Case commented on: ITLOS Special Chamber, Judgment in Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean, 23 September 2017.

In Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean (Ghana/Côte d’Ivoire), a Special Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) was requested to delimit all maritime areas appertaining to Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean, including the continental shelf beyond 200 nm. This is the first time an international court or tribunal has delimited the continental shelf beyond 200 nm where one of the parties to the dispute had received recommendations concerning the location of the outer limit of its continental shelf from the Commission on the Limits of the Continental shelf (CLCS). This makes the case particularly interesting for the purpose of clarifying procedural issues and the relationship between the CLCS, its recommendations, and international courts and tribunals.

A previous post by Nigel Bankes provides a general commentary on the Judgment of the Special Chamber.

The purpose of this post is to take a closer look at the parts of the Judgment dealing with the outer continental shelf delimitation, and discuss both procedural and substantive issues. Did the Special Chamber act in accordance with previous judicial practice, contributing to establishing a predictable and consistent practice? Further, the blogpost looks ahead to future delimitation cases, and considers whether the delimitation methodology applied by courts and tribunals in delimitation disputes between adjacent States should also be applied in delimitations between opposite States. The post uses the upcoming delimitation of the continental shelf between Nicaragua and Colombia beyond 200 nm from the Nicaraguan coast as an example.

Delimitation Oil and gas

State responsibility for unilateral hydrocarbon activities in disputed maritime areas: The case of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and its implications

By: Natalia Ermolina and Constantinos Yiallourides

PDF version:

Case commented on: ITLOS Special Chamber, Judgment in Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary Between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean, 23 September 2017.

Background to the dispute between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire

For a long time, Ghana believed that there was a de facto maritime boundary line between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, and since the 1950s had conducted hydrocarbon activities based on its understanding of this ‘customary boundary’. Côte d’Ivoire, for its part, was not particularly active in protesting Ghana’s hydrocarbon activities. Only in 2009 did Côte d’Ivoire make a proposal as to its view of the maritime boundary thus forming a triangular area of overlapping maritime claims. The area claimed by Côte d’Ivoire covered significant oil and gas fields discovered by Tullow Oil plc operating under a license of Ghana. Ghana alleged that this was the main reason why Côte d’Ivoire raised its claims.

The ITLOS Special Chamber (SC) rejected Ghana’s submission that there was a tacit agreement between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire for the delimitation of their territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf within and beyond 200 n.m. (chapter VII, especially paras. 211-228). At the same time, the SC also rejected Côte d’Ivoire’s proposed boundary. The SC drew a single maritime boundary for the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf within and beyond 200 n.m. (chapter IX). The final boundary drawn by the SC almost coincides with the line argued by Ghana and does not affect Ghana’s petroleum fields found in the Gulf of Guinea. Therefore, it is not surprising that in many news accounts the SC’s decision is referred to as a victory of Ghana over Côte d’Ivoire.


The way towards strengthened marine cooperation in the Arctic

By:  Christian Prip

PDF version: The way towards strengthened marine cooperation in the Arctic

Document commented on: Report to Ministers of the Task Force on Arctic Marine Cooperation.

The Arctic Council Ministers established a Task Force on Arctic Marine Cooperation (TFAMC) in 2015  “to assess future needs for a regional seas program or other mechanism, as appropriate, for increased cooperation in Arctic marine areas” and “to make recommendations on the nature and scope of any such mechanisms.” (Iqaluit Declaration, paragraph 43) The Task Force was requested  to deliver a report to Ministers in 2017 identifying future needs for strengthened cooperation for Arctic marine areas, as well as whether the Council should begin negotiations on a cooperation mechanism for Arctic marine areas.

Co-chaired by the U.S., Norway, and Iceland, the Task Force met five times, with participation from all Arctic States, three Arctic Council Permanent Representatives, four Arctic Council working groups as well as invited experts and observer States and organizations. In its 2017 report, the Task Force requested to continue its work. Ministers at the Arctic Council Ministerial in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 – 11 May 2017 met the request and established a new mandate for the Task Force to present “…terms of reference for a possible new subsidiary Body, and recommendations for complementary enhancements to existing Arctic Council mechanisms, for consideration by Ministers in 2019.” (Fairbanks Declaration, paragraph 12).

A first meeting of the extended TFAMC was held 14 – 15 September 2017. Reports from TFAMC meetings are not made public.

Delimitation International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)

ITLOS Judgment in the Maritime Boundary Dispute between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire

By: Nigel Bankes

PDF version: ITLOS Judgment in the Maritime Boundary Dispute between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire

Case commented on: ITLOS Special Chamber, Judgment in Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary Between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean, 23 September 2017.

A Special Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) handed down its judgment in the Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary Between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean on 23 September 2017. The litigation was originally commenced by Ghana as an application initiating arbitral proceedings under Annex VII of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) but in December 2014, by Special Agreement, the two states agreed to submit the dispute to a Special Chamber of ITLOS comprised of Judge Boualem Bouguetaia as President, Judge Rüdiger Wolfrum, Judge Jin-Hyun Paik, Mr Thomas Mensah, Judge ad hoc (Ghana) and Judge Ronny Abraham, Judge ad hoc (Côte d’Ivoire).  ITLOS acceded to that request. The Special Agreement and the attached Minutes of Consultations indicated that the two States were agreeing to transfer the arbitral proceedings instituted by Ghana with respect to the dispute “concerning the delimitation of their maritime boundary in the Atlantic Ocean.” Ghana’s earlier application had asked the Arbitral Tribunal to “delimit, in accordance with the principles and rules set forth in UNCLOS and international law, the complete course of the single maritime boundary dividing all the maritime areas appertaining to Ghana and to Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean, including in the continental shelf beyond 200 M.”