Argentina’s formal submission challenges “the illegitimate British occupation of the southern archipelagos”, and is the latest territorial dispute in the race to extend national sovereignties over the ocean floor. Two years ago, Argentina ended an agreement to co-operate on underwater prospecting. The country now seeks 1.7 million square kilometres (660,000 square miles) of the seabed.
Victorio Tacetti, Argentina’s deputy foreign minister, presented 40 volumes of documentation to the UN commission on the limits of the continental shelf, describing them as “11 years [of research] in defence of national sovereignty”. The United Kingdom – which rejected the seabed claims as baseless — has until May 13 to present its rival claim for the area around the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
The Argentinian claim extends as far as the Antarctic, where Britain already has expressed an interest in the continental shelf up to 350 miles (about 560 kilometres) beyond the coast of its South Pole territory. The UN convention on the law of the sea permits states to extract oil, gas and minerals from the seabed up to, and sometimes more than, 350 miles beyond their coastlines if they can demonstrate the “prolongation” of an adjoining continental shelf.
Rival submissions will mean that neither nation can exploit the seabed beyond 200 miles (320 kilometres) from the shoreline until diplomatic agreement is reached. After Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982, the two countries fought a 73-day war before Argentina surrendered.
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