"The United Kingdom is planning to claim sovereign rights over a vast area of the remote seabed off Antarctica, the Guardian has learned. The submission to the United Nations covers more than 1m sq km (386,000 sq miles) of seabed, and is likely to signal a quickening of the race for territory around the south pole in the world's least explored continent.
The claim would be in defiance of the spirit of the 1959 Antarctic treaty, to which the UK is a signatory. It specifically states that no new claims shall be asserted on the continent. The treaty was drawn up to prevent territorial disputes."
The new British empire? UK plans to annex south Atlantic
Saturday September 22, 2007
Britain is preparing territorial claims on tens of thousands of square miles of the Atlantic Ocean floor around the Falklands, Ascension Island and Rockall in the hope of annexing potentially lucrative gas, mineral and oil fields, the Guardian has learned.
Talks have already begun between Ireland, Iceland and Denmark for the division of rights far out into the north Atlantic. It includes the island of Rockall and the sub-sea Hatton ridge. The competing claims are nowhere near final resolution although Ireland and the UK have agreed a common boundary.
Other countries that have submitted claims to the ocean floors around remote overseas dependencies have run into fierce resentment from neighbouring nations. France, which this summer registered its claim to thousands of square miles around New Caledonia, in the Pacific, has received protests from Vanuatu warning that the claim has "serious implications and ramifications on Vanuatu's legal and traditional sovereignty". Russia was criticised this summer for making claims beneath the Arctic Ocean.
The UN body has been progressing slowly through its casework. The process of extending the normal 200-mile limit requires volumes of technical evidence of submarine soundings. According to the convention on the law of the sea, applicant states may register their rights by "establishing the foot of the continental slope, by meeting the requirements stated for the thickness of sedimentary rocks".
Once demarcated, the ocean floor may then be claimed up to 60 nautical miles from the bottom of the continental slope. When territorial rights have been obtained, states have the right to extract any minerals, natural gas or oil discovered in the annexed seabed.
There is a deadline of May 2009 for claims from the UK and other countries to be submitted, although states that ratified the treaty later have more time. "The amount of technical data required is massive," said Mr Pratt. "Australia recently submitted 80 volumes."