Namibia awaits UN boundary verdict


Desie Heita

Windhoek-Namibia is pushing ahead in her quest to set territorial boundaries with her neighbours, and to finally set up maritime boundaries with South Africa through peaceful means.

The matter – currently in the hands of the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf – seems so serious that part of the budget allocated to the land reform ministry is set aside to fund activities related to the pursuit of setting – and expanding – the country’s maritime boundaries.

If the UN approves Namibia’s submission, made in May 2009, the country’s territorial boundary would extend by over 1 million square kilometres, documents seen by New Era state.

The claim would not only extend Namibia’s territorial boundaries by a significant margin but, by some estimation, could provide some sort of mineral windfall in the form of unexplored hydrocarbon reserves and other minerals at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

The settling of the long-standing contention over the maritime borders with South Africa has been a long process to confront the elephant in the room.

Although Namibia has an agreement with Angola that delimits the maritime boundary between the two states from the mouth of the Kunene River, it has no substantial agreement with South Africa.

Namibia and South Africa only have a 2009 memorandum of understanding (MoU) pending the finalisation of the maritime border from the Orange River mouth. The MoU is in place while the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) considers the claims submitted by the two countries. And the agreement is “without prejudice for the future establishment of [Namibia and South Africa] maritime boundaries”.

Interestingly, the land reform ministry also reveals that it was only in the last financial year that the “international boundary beacons between Namibia and Botswana were revalidated and a first draft of the international boundary treaty was compiled”.

Nevertheless, the ministry notes: “If the UN approves Namibia’s claim, the impact would be an extension of Namibian territorial boundary by over 1 million square kilometres.”
“Considering that the continental shelf is formed mostly by debris, this will extend the area for exploration of minerals and possible exploitation of offshore minerals,” noted the ministry in its 2017/18 budget motivation.

Namibia, which to date is estimated to have spent more than N$29.9 million on sophisticated technological methods of surveying and aerial mapping of the ocean, is set to spend another N$1.1 million this year towards the finalisation of the delimitation of the continental shelf that should belong to Namibia’s sovereignty.

“Navigation charts of the Namibian continental shelf will also be produced for onward transmission to the United Nations and for use by other line ministries. The charts will depict the Namibian Territorial Sea, Exclusive Economic Zone, and the Extended Continental Shelf,” read part of the 2017/18 budget motivation by the ministry.

The UN CLCS admitted, during the celebrations of its 20th anniversary last week, that it has long winding queues of claims lodged that are yet to receive consideration. The CLCS also said that it takes between seven and eight years for a claim submitted to receive consideration by the body.

The ministry notes in its budget motivation that the “Delimitation of the Namibian Continental Shelf’ involves the delimitation and demarcation of the maritime boundary using modern scientific and technological methods including hydrographical survey, geomorphology, aerial photography and mapping, geodetic, topographic and cadastral surveys.”

The ministry has put as part of its expected outputs, the “successful defence of Namibia’s submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf”.

As part of its celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary on March 10, the CLCS said that “as at 31 December 2016, 67 coastal States have made 82 submissions, including seven joint submissions, several partial submissions as well as five revised submissions which were made after recommendations had been issued.” It also noted that “as at 31 December 2016, the Commission issued 26 recommendations, while two of them were for revised submissions.”

Namibia submitted her claim on May 2009 in which it seeks, through the UN parameters the “possibility of extending her sovereign rights over undersea territory peacefully and with the support of the international community represented by the member states of the United Nations”.

The submission was made at the time by the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement, led then by Alpheus !Naruseb as its minister. In the submission, which was compiled by technical experts from various institutions and ministries, Namibia made it clear that she intends on ensuring that it complies with the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Scientific and Technical Guidelines of the Commission of the Limits of the Continental Shelf adopted on May 13,1999.


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