By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Nadi

The government of Vanuatu hopes the long-standing joint submission with Fiji and Solomon Islands to extend their outer limits of the continental shelf in the North Fiji Basin will be resolved soon.

In 2009, the three coastal states lodged their interest to extend the outer limits of their continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baseline of their territorial sea.

Speaking to Pacific journalists in Denarau on the margins of the regional ocean governance dialogue, senior Vanuatu government official Steve Willie Hango is confident the long standing issue may be resolved soon.

He said the joint submission made to the United Nations Division of Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea (UNDOALOS) 14 years ago was to lay claim on the high seas pocket.

“As neighbouring countries, we should put a claim for the high seas pocket because we have huge ocean resources, including deep sea minerals and tuna. It’s good to lay a claim to that space of ocean and extract as much as we can for our countries.

“Like deep sea mining, we feel more studies need to be done in that pocket of the high seas. We look forward to having our submission, accepted, Hango told PACNEWS.

The Vanuatu senior foreign affairs official revealed the three countries are waiting to finalise their submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS)

“The CLCS process takes a lot of time. We are also waiting for the three countries to have a final meeting to finalise the technical aspects of the submission.

“That is submitted back to the CLCS who makes the final decision, said Hango.

“We just have to prove that Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji are on the same continental shelf. So far we have worked with SPC who are providing technical experts on preparing the submission.

PACNEWS has been reliably informed the North Fiji Basin high seas pocket is a common fishing ground for many fishing flag states from Distant Water Fishing fleets. It is also rich in tuna resources and deep sea minerals, according to studies.

Another outstanding territorial claim of almost five decades, the Mathew and Hunter Islands, made up of two small uninhabited islands claimed by the people of Aneityum in Vanuatu as part of their custom ownership – is likely to be resolved before the end of the year. In 2007 the French Government claimed New Caledonia as part of France.

“Mathew and Hunter is a very sensitive issue. The issue of Mathew and Hunter was on the agenda of the discussion last month between the French President, Emanuel Macron and the Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Ishmael Kalsakau. They have agreed to resolve the issue in December this year, said Hango.

“Probably next month, our PM will reciprocate the French Prime Minister’s visit to Paris. From then on they would have another dialogue. As they have already agreed verbally they hope to resolve the issue by December.

“The Vanuatu Government is looking forward to resolving this issue as soon as possible, said Hango.

The resolution to the extension of Vanuatu’s continental shelf and the controversial Mathew and Hunter issue are key to the formation of the islands National Ocean Policy (NOP).

The senior Vanuatu government officials said the national ocean policy will be reviewed in October this year.

“It has been a long time since we launched our NOP back in 2016. Some of the new and emerging issues like marine pollution, and maritime security have not been incorporated into the new national ocean policy.

“We are revising our National Ocean Policy to better inform our leaders to make informed decisions said Hango.

He’s in Nadi this week for the regional ocean governance dialogue.

“Vanuatu supports the newly established Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner (OPOC) and will continue to support the work of the soon to OPOC in Palau.

“Around 75 percent of our ocean space remains unresolved. We hope OPOC will push countries to maritime boundaries delimitations and technical expertise to help Vanuatu, said Hango.