Britain’s attempts to claim thousands of square kilometres of seabed around a remote Atlantic island have been thrown out by the United Nations.
The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf ruled that the UK had not successfully shown that the area around Ascension Island met the criteria necessary to establish a claim under international law.
The ruling, which came out in April and is reported today in the Guardian, is a blow for the UK and for oil exploration companies who might have hoped to drill around Ascension (see, for example, the Independent’s 2008 story, Britain seeks to expand its empire with 77,000 square miles of Atlantic seabed).
Countries can extend their rights to the seabed off their coasts if they can prove that it is a “natural prolongation” of its continental shelf (See Nature’s 2008 feature: The next land rush). In this instance the UN Commission ruled that this had not been shown.
“This volcanic edifice [Ascension] is a pinnacle surrounded by the deep ocean floor,” says the ruling.
“Given this, any maximum change in gradient away from the base of that pinnacle (i.e. the base of the insular slope of the island surmounting the volcanic edifice) does not represent a valid FOS [foot of the continental slope] associated with the continental margin of the island, but is related to variations in the gradient of features of the deep ocean floor.”