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Interpretation of UNCLOS Article 76 and the Negative Recommendation of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on Ascension Island: Is the United Kingdom Stuck with It?

Andrew Serdy

Keywords: Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf; Law of the Sea; UNCLOS Article 76; continental shelf

The 2010 recommendation to the United Kingdom is to date the only one the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has made to any submitting State for the outer limit of the continental shelf not to run beyond 200 nautical miles from the baseline. On its face the rationale for the recommendation appears defensible since the predominantly geomorphological approach to UNCLOS Article 76 on which it depends is one that it was open to the Commission to take, even if other interpretations are possible. The UK's criticism of the Commission for thereby exceeding its mandate is groundless, as Article 76 forces that role on it; the disagreement is about application rather than interpretation. But the UK has also hinted at flaws in the process by which the recommendation was reached, quoting from the written interactions between its delegation and the subcommission that examined its submission. As the UK has limited options if it still believes itself entitled to a continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles around Ascension Island, coy hints of procedural irregularity potentially undermining the legitimacy of the negative recommendation are unlikely to be enough to persuade other States not to challenge its assertions of sovereign rights despite it. This might require preparedness to release the full record of its correspondence with the Commission to show that its grievance is soundly based, or turning to the States Parties for a collective view on the matter.

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