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Tribunal Gave Our Continental Shelf to Barbados

Trinidad and Tobago's claim line
Trinidad and Tobago's claim line
Trinidad and Tobago's claim line

By Stephen Kangal
May 08, 2006

I am convinced that the 11 April 2006 judgment issued by the Arbitral Tribunal that adjudicated on the TT/Barbados Maritime Boundary Dispute was alarmingly skewed in favour of Barbados in numerous critical areas.

In anticipation of this injustice in March 2004 when the dispute flared up I advised without success both by letter to the Prime Minister and by an article published in the Newsday that Government should exercise its legal options to avoid going to Arbitration. Tribunals are subject to contaminated justice.

The claim made by the T&T's Attorney General John Jeremie in the Senate Statement to the effect that "...The Tribunal also agreed to a request by T&T to extend our maritime boundary... to the continental shelf beyond the 200 mile EEZ of Barbados" is knowingly euphoria-generating but knowingly false. That would have been true had the Tribunal accepted T&T's proposal as set out in Judgment Map 7.5.

In fact the overwhelming evidence points to the Tribunal having appropriated large tracts of the Atlantic extensions of our natural prolongation that is part of the TT/Venezuela shared South American continental shelf. The Tribunal then allocated it to Barbados via the equidistance boundary on the basis of its 200-mile EEZ distance criteria claim. In this inequitable decision the Tribunal deprived T&T, but not Venezuela, of its legitimate, inherent, and acquired right and entitlement to the resources of our extended continental shelf. These resources include oil, gas, lobsters, sea crabs and pavements of metals- bearing manganese nodules.

Equitable considerations demanded that at least, T&T should have also been accorded a high seas access corridor to enable it to explore and exploit these resources similar to what Barbados and Venezuela can do by the new boundary. Equity demanded that T&T did not lose in its entirety all access to its extended continental shelf that is its natural prolongation taking into geo-morphological criteria.

From 1982 when UNCLOS was concluded, in 1991 when the TT/Venezuela Agreement was agreed, and to 2006 (24 years) when the boundary with Barbados was handed down, T&T crystallised its legitimate right to exploit these resources to a distance of at least 300 nautical miles. Point 22 in the 1990 Agreement marks the edge of our continental shelf margin.. Now we are securely shelf-locked (shut in) at Point 11 of the new TT/Barbados boundary that marks our 200 miles limit. Seawards of Point 11 the maritime areas fall within the 200-mile EEZ arc of Barbados.

The Tribunal chose to recognise the 1990 boundary selectively and in favour of Barbados.

We are hemmed in by Barbados to the North and Venezuela to the South of us. The very last vestiges of our legal continental have been taken away from us in a grand miscarriage of justice perpetrated by skewed tribunal jurisprudence. We might as well remove laws relating to the continental shelf in our law books because the Tribunal robbed us of this entitlement. And we paid 7m pounds sterling in legal expenses for this piracy.

In fact Barbados will now replace T&T as the northern beneficiary partner of the 1990 boundary beyond Point 11 of the 2006 boundary without having spent the 17 years of negotiations, human expertise and financial resources to conclude this Treaty. This is the travesty of justice that the Tribunal callously visited on T&T and of which I will complain ad infinitum.

Readers will appreciate that Barbados' off-shore areas are geologically distinct and different (coral) from that of T&T and Venezuela ( thick sedimentary layers). As stated above these two countries sit on the distinct Venezuelan shelf. The basis of legal continental shelf claims by coastal states is that the shelf claimed must be indeed a natural prolongation of their land territory (Article 76 of UNCLOS) into and under the sea. The geo-continental shelf of Barbados stops at 40 miles (foot of the slope) off its south coasts. The sea floor then drops into deep trenches producing what in law is termed as a fundamental physical discontinuity that bifurcates the floor of the ocean.

So that while by the distance criteria of 200 miles the Tribunal allocated to Barbados shelf /EEZ claims located northwards of points 8 to 10 and eastwards of Point 11 of the boundary, that said shelf is really in fact the natural geological prolongation of T&T and not of Barbados. Consequently having illegally taken over our inherent and natural geological prolongation, that is to say our shelf by foul jurisprudential means, Barbados can now use fair means to exercise their rights to drill for oil and gas in maritime areas that were both by legal ( the 1986 Act and the 1990 Treaty) and geological criteria that of T&T since 1982. Those said areas are not geologically speaking the natural prolongation of Barbados but inherently of T&T. Brabados has no inherent rights to the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the region of Point 22 of the 1990 Treaty line.

If the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (See Annex II of UNCLOS) were eventually on the evidence submitted to prohibit Barbados from exploring those said shelf rights in maritime areas located beyond 200 miles, then Barbados would have succeeded unjustifiably in preventing T&T with the aid of the Arbitral Tribunal from so doing by rendering the latter deliberately shelf and zone-locked.

Furthermore Barbados' Deputy PM Mia Mottley now exults and boasts of having deprived T&T of our continental shelf once and for all with the Tribunal serving as an accessory to this banditry.

Talk of Caribbean integration, negotiating in good faith and the Caribbean Sea and the resources therein belonging to all of us is intellectual dishonesty.

The map above submitted by T&T to the Tribunal hearings shows indeed a corridor exit to the Atlantic Ocean but this proposal was rejected by the Tribunal. This is the map/ proposal on which the AG's Statement in the Senate of 11 April 2006 seems to be based. This is why I have described his statement as the faux pas of the century.

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