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High Seas Corridor Essential For T&T
Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2006

By Stephen Kangal

Trinidad and Tobago
Map showing high seas corridor (shaded area) off T&T

The claim made by Attorney General John Jeremie in the Senate on 11 April to the effect that the Tribunal that handed down TT/Barbados Maritime Boundary judgment provided T&T with a vital high seas corridor or "salida" to the Atlantic similar to what we accorded to Venezuela in 1990 cannot be substantiated. That is false and misleading.

During the negotiations held in 1990 T&T and Venezuela agreed to locate their bilateral maritime boundary from 20 to 22 north of the notional equidistance boundary starting at 115 nautical miles and going six miles directly northwards and then following an azimuth of 67 degrees to Point 22 that is located 300 miles in the Atlantic. A coastal state can extend its continental shelf rights to a maximum of 350 miles from its baselines.

This high seas corridor accorded to Venezuela by the 1990 T&T/Venezuela Agreement is shown in the area shaded on the above map.

But the current military exercises being conducted by both Venezuelan and US military vessels and aircraft in waters lying off Venezuela and a potential US invasion of Venezuela bring the strategic importance of the high seas corridor into bold relief.

At present T&T is both shelf-locked and zone-locked short of 200 miles from Tobago. It is hemmed in by Barbados in the North and Venezuela to its South. Both Barbados and Venezuela enjoy unrestricted high seas navigational access to the Atlantic. Accordingly Venezuela can use its existing high seas corridor allowed by T&T to repel any incoming US naval vessels without having to get the permission of either T&T or Guyana to undertake military incursions in waters lying within the latter's respective EEZ's.

Zone -locking a state is like rendering the coastal state land-locked and having to use the waters of neighbouring states to navigate to the high seas.

A coastal state can suspend freedom of navigation in the waters of its EEZ if the navigation can pose in its deliberate discretion a potential threat to the preservation of its marine environment. For example Caribbean countries refused French vessels carrying processed plutonium rods to Japan via the Panama Canal from navigating through the waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Barbados can reasonably invoke its overwhelming economic dependence on marine tourism to restrict potentially environmental threatening-navigation across the 2006 T&T/Barbados maritime boundary.

God forbid but if the current intransigence of Bajan imperialism (they even claimed up to 12 -miles from Tobago before the Tribunal) were at any time to result in naval hostilities with T&T, our rights of unrestricted navigation via the waters of the neighbouring EEZ's can be arbitrarily suspended and leave us disadvantaged. The export of our LNG and Direct Reduced Iron (hazardous substances) can be potentially stymied and adversely affected by our EEZ-locked position and no unrestricted high seas corridor.

It is to be noted that the high seas corridor is not exclusively navigational but also a resource exploitation zone that can allow the coastal state to extend its sovereign rights to the continental located beyond 200 miles. It is on this basis that Venezuela can now exercise its jurisdiction to the edge of its South American continental margin when it would have been zone-locked by T&T and Guyana at a distance of 117 nautical miles in the Atlantic.

This is only one of the several worrying and adverse consequences that are punitive to T&T arising from the recent skewed maritime boundary judgment of the Arbitral Tribunal. Deputy PM Mia Mottley now boasts of having deprived T&T of its continental shelf entitlements beyond 200 miles forever. In fact Barbados has taken over our continental shelf beyond 200 miles.

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