Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf Concludes Fifty-Third Session

NEW YORK, 24 November (Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea) ― The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf held its fifty‑third session at United Nations Headquarters from 6 October to 23 November.

This session was the first one convened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic*.  It was held in person at United Nations Headquarters under strict prevention and mitigating measures intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 disease, including limited occupancy of conference rooms.  As a result, no meetings were held between subcommissions and delegations during the session.

There were no plenary parts during the session and its seven weeks were devoted to the technical examination of submissions at the geographic information systems laboratories and other technical facilities of the Division.  The members of the Commission held consultations in respect to modalities and the organization of work given that examination of submissions had been suspended since the fifty-second session held in February‑March 2020.  The members also planned future work of the subcommissions in 2022, taking into account uncertainties related to the future course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the session, a minute of silence was held in honour of former member and former Vice-Chairperson of the Commission, Jair Alberto Ribas Marques, following his untimely passing in Brazil on 18 July.

Ten submissions were on the plan of work of the Commission for this session.  They were made by:  the Russian Federation in respect of the Arctic Ocean (partial revised submission); Brazil in respect of the Brazilian Equatorial Margin (partial revised submission); France and South Africa, jointly, in respect of the area of the Crozet Archipelago and the Prince Edward Islands; Kenya; Nigeria; Palau in respect of the North Area (partial amended submission); Sri Lanka; Portugal; Spain in respect of the area of Galicia (partial submission); and India (partial submission).

In 2022, the Commission is expected to hold three sessions as follows:  the fifty-fourth session from 24 January to 11 March 2022, with two plenary parts from 31 January to 4 February 2022 and from 28 February to 4 March 2022; the fifty-fifth session from 5 July to 19 August 2022, with two plenary parts from 25 to 29 July 2022 and from 8 to 12 August 2022; and the fifty-sixth session from 5 October to 22 November 2022, without plenary parts.  The approval of these session will be before the General Assembly on 7 December 2021, in the context of its annual deliberations on oceans and the law of the sea and the draft “omnibus” resolution.

Background

Established pursuant to article 2, annex II to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Commission makes recommendations to coastal States on matters related to the establishment of the outer limits of their continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured, based on information submitted to it by coastal States.  These recommendations are based on the scientific and technical data and other material provided by States in relation to the implementation of article 76 of the Convention.  The recommendations do not prejudice matters relating to the delimitation of boundaries between States with opposite or adjacent coasts or prejudice the position of States that are parties to a land or maritime dispute, or application of other parts of the Convention or any other treaties.  The limits of the continental shelf established by a coastal State on the basis of these recommendations shall be final and binding.  In the case of disagreement by the coastal State with the recommendations of the Commission, the coastal State shall, within a reasonable time, make a revised or new submission to the Commission.

Under rule 23 of its rules of procedure on public and private meetings, the meetings of the Commission, its subcommissions and subsidiary bodies are held in private, unless the Commission decides otherwise.

As required under the rules of procedure of the Commission, the executive summaries of all the submissions, including all charts and coordinates, have been made public by the Secretary‑General through continental shelf notifications circulated to Member States of the United Nations, as well as States Parties to the Convention.  The executive summaries are available on the Division’s website at:  www.un.org/depts/los/clcs_new/clcs_home.htm.  The summaries of recommendations adopted by the Commission are also available on the above-referenced website.

The Commission is a body of 21 experts in the field of geology, geophysics or hydrography.  They serve in their personal capacities.  Members of the Commission are elected for a term of five years by the Meeting of States Parties to the Convention from among their nationals having due regard to the need to ensure equitable geographical representation.  Not fewer than three members shall be elected from each geographical region.

Currently, one seat on the Commission continues to be vacant due to the lack of nominations from the Eastern European Group of States.  A second vacant seat in the Commission is due to the recent passing of Commissioner, Jair Alberto Ribas Marques (Brazil) on 18 July (see Press Release SEA/2132).  The thirty‑first Meeting of States Parties to the Convention will be resumed to conduct the by‑election and has been tentatively scheduled for 8 December.

The Convention provides that the State party which submitted the nomination of a member of the Commission shall defray the expenses of that member while in performance of Commission duties.  The participation of several members of the Commission from developing countries has been facilitated by financial assistance from a voluntary trust fund for the purpose of defraying the cost of participation of the members of the Commission from developing countries.

For additional information on the work of the Commission see the website of the Division at:  www.un.org/depts/los/index.htm.  In particular, the most recent Statements by the Chair on the progress in the work of the Commission are available at:  www.un.org/depts/los/clcs_new/commission_documents.

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