UK claims seabed around Falklands

Britain has lodged a claim to a large swath of South Atlantic seabed around the Falkland Islands, Reuters reported. The move sets the stage for a diplomatic battle with Argentina for control of potentially rich oil and gas reserves. Last month, Argentina filed its own claim with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The two countries have been engaged in a long-running dispute over the sovereignty of the islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas. That dispute, which led to war in 1982, could be aggravated further by conflict over mineral rights.

Britain’s claim covers about 1.2 million square kilometres around the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, coastal states may explore and exploit the natural resources of their continental shelf for up to 200 nautical miles from shore. In certain circumstances, they can apply to extend that outer limit to up to 350 nautical miles.

The UN commission is considering more than 40 claims by various countries wanting to extend their rights over seabed regions, and dozens more are expected to be lodged. A British Foreign Office official told Reuters that when countries make competing claims, the UN commission is likely to shelve the issue until the states settle the dispute.

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