Sir Creek And IndiaPakistan CBMs

An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 19 December 2004

An Indian team led by Ms Meera Shankar was in Islamabad this week to discuss Nuclear CBMs with Pakistan and the Boundary Pillar issue. Last week the India Pakistan Soldier's Initiative (IPSI) team was in Delhi and they met a huge spectrum of serving and retired personnel and also met the Defence Minister and the Home Minister. They interacted with Ram Jethmalani and one can say with confidence the people to people desire to see peaceful solutions is very great. The stumbling blocks are the Army and Mullahs in Pakistan and it will be difficult to get to them in a hurry. However in the context of the Sir Creek, a paper tabled by Rear Admiral H M Ansari who was here with the team is appended below.

Limits In The Seas –– The Continental Shelf
By Real Admiral (R) Hasan M. Ansari*

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has been imaginatively called the fifth and largest province of Pakistan –– in a manner of speaking it is. Adding the continental shelf would almost double the area available for economic exploitation; more specifically for oil and gas exploration. But first, Pakistan has to determine its geographical boundaries and stake its claim for acceptance by the U.N. before the cut-off date of November 2009.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982, lists customary International Law for the Principles that underlie the Proper Establishment of Baselines (Arts 5-11 and 13-14).  Baselines affect the limits of Territorial Waters, Contiguous Zone, EEZ, and Continental Shelf.  Pakistan promulgated the geographic coordinates defining the straight baselines vide Gazette of Pakistan Notification (SRO-714(I).96) in August 1996. The coordinates have not been accepted by the U.N. In fact objections were raised by U.S, Holland and India, among others. The U.S. is not a signatory to UNCLOS, but has objected on principle of Freedom of Navigation (Vide, U.S. Dept of State, Bureau of Oceans, Environmental, Scientific Affairs Publication No.118).

Article 76 defines the legal continental shelf as, “The natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental shelf, or to a distance of 200 NM from the baselines of the territorial sea”. The important factors affecting the limits of a potential claim beyond the 200 Mile Boundary are:

  • The 2,500 –– Meter Isobath

  • The foot of the Continental slope

  • The sediment thickness beyond the foot of the slope

  • The relationship of the crust beneath the continental shelf to that onshore

The maximum limit of a claim cannot exceed 350 NM from the baselines or 100 NM from the 2,500-Meter Isobaths. Within these limits the shelf can be extended up to 60 NM beyond the foot of the continental slope or where the sediment thickness is at least 1% of shortest distance to the foot of the slope.

The complexity of this article warranted the establishment of a new UN Body: “UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). This commission has an unusual status, being neither a court nor a purely advisory Body, it examines states’ submissions and makes recommendations to the states on the validity of their claims.  The commission mandate is structured on a non-adversarial approach; it will assist states in preparing their submissions and provide scientific and technical advice. It would also help in-country information dissemination and development of human resources by conducting workshops, if requested. The emphasis is on the use of methodologies, which minimize costs and optimize existing resources.

Since the ultimate responsibility for proclaiming jurisdiction belongs to the State, this process poses a number of challenges both technical and in terms of time constraints.  On the technical side, comprehensive, and potentially very expensive data gathering and analysis must support the submission, on the time side there is an absolute deadline of November 2009 and Pakistan must submit its claim before that.

Five years is not a long time considering the complexity and volume of work required.  The outer limits of the extended shelf are defined by four rules; Two of which are formulae and two of which are constraints:

Formulae:      Foot of slope to 1% sediment thickness.

                          Foot of continental slope + 60 NM.

Constraints:   350 Miles from baselines

                          2,500-Meter Isobath + 100 Miles

Determining the result involves many elaborate, and potentially expensive, scientific and technical challenges, including the following examples:

  • Detailed Bathymetric data gathering to locate the foot of the slope and 2,500-Meter Isobath

  • Seismic Survey or physical boring if 1% formula used

  • Resolution of issues relating to Geodetic definition of baselines, Bathymetric models, quality of data sources etc

  • Resolution of complexities due to Submarine Elevations & Oceanic Ridges

Because of these complexities a state risks incurring a significant increase in costs if it does not have a well-developed strategy to focus appropriate resources in appropriate locations.  Pakistan if opting to go alone thus runs the risk of incurring disproportionately high expenditure without getting less than the size potentially available.

It should be noted that this process delineates an outer limit of jurisdiction and does NOT deal with boundary issues of land or maritime boundaries between India and Pakistan. It is unlikely to be significantly affected by the location of baselines and base points. Because this claim for a seaward extension of jurisdiction is independent of the location of the maritime boundary between India and Pakistan there is a convergence of interests between the two countries to save money and effort by cooperating in data collection, analysis and preparation of submissions.  Using consistent and compatible data, without prejudice to boundary claims, can increase their changes of successfully maximizing their respective jurisdictions to seaward.  There is no benefit in competing and everything to be gained by cooperation.

Although India has a much larger coastline, she has a common interest with Pakistan in defining the outer limits of the continental shelf in the Arabian Sea under the provisions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the CLCS guidelines.  Both would benefit financially from cooperation in cost-effective gathering of consistent data, and strengthen the legal and technical basis for their submissions to the Commission. 

Following points are germane to the issue:

  • The CLCS will, if requested, conduct workshops in-country and assist in preparation of submissions and provide scientific and technical advice.

  • The CLCS would accept Joint Submission by the two countries with a view to promote regional cooperation.

  • The outer limits of the Continental Shelf are unrelated to the issues of Sir Creek and maritime boundary.

  • Cooperation would conserve financial, human and material resources.

  • Cooperation between hydrographers of the two countries would be cost-effective and beneficial.

  • Coordination would maximize the prospect of both countries gaining maximum seaward extension of respective claims.

With time a constraint, since 2009 is a final deadline for submission, with the issue being independent of either the Sir Creek or Maritime Boundary issues, and with each country having a vested interest in seeing the other succeed, the two Governments need to give serious consideration to cooperating to the extent possible in preparation of their submissions, especially since both have already agreed to coordinate responses to issues where there is a commonality of interest.

(* Real Admiral (R) Hasan M. Ansari* is a Research Fellow at the Pakistan Institute of Maritime Affairs (PIMA), Karachi . He may be contacted at

Disclaimer   Copyright