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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

AAPG Bulletin


Volume: 67 (1983)

Issue: 3. (March)

First Page: 551

Last Page: 552

Title: Plate Tectonics and Offshore Boundary Delimitation: Tunisia-Libya Case at the International Court of Justice: ABSTRACT

Author(s): Daniel Jean Stanley

Article Type: Meeting abstract


Advances in the technology for exploiting resources of the oceans, particularly recovery of hydrocarbons and minerals in deep water, is benefiting a growing number of nations. At the

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same time, however, economic and political pressures have induced concern and there is now a much increased emphasis on jurisdiction to divide the offshore areas between the 132 coastal nations. Negotiations affect research operations at sea and, in consequence, marine scientists have been made aware of offshore problems as highlighted by the Law of the Sea Treaty (UNCLOS III) and complications arising from the legal versus scientific definitions of continental shelves and margins. Most scientists, however, are not familiar with juridical considerations in the delimitations of offshore state boundaries.

As to prevailing trends, many jurists contend that existing state practice and decisional law pertaining to maritime delimitation problems are presently adequate to provide a legal framework for negotiation and third-party adjudications. It also has been suggested that in delimiting maritime boundaries primacy must be accorded to geographic factors, and that support be given to the equidistance-proportionality method as a means of giving effect to geographic factors. But what about geology?

The first major offshore boundary case of international scope where plate tectonics has constituted a significant argument is the one recently brought before the International Court of Justice by Libya and Tunisia concerning the delimitation of their continental shelves. Of the two parties, Libya placed the greatest emphasis on this concept as a means to determine natural prolongation of its land territory into and under the sea. Tunisia contested Libya's use of the whole of the African continental landmass as a reference unit; in Tunisia's view, considerations of geography, geomorphology, and bathymetry are at least as relevant as are those of geology. In its landmark judgement (February 1982)--which almost certainly will have far-reaching consequences in future such boundary delimit tion cases--the court pronounced that "It is the outcome, not the evolution in the long-distant past, which is of importance," and that it is the present-day configuration of the coasts and sea bed which are the main factors to be considered, not geology.

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