Monday, January 02, 2006

Moving the Border

An Estonian law professor has suggested that Estonia should extend its maritime border in the Gulf of Finland. This might give it some protection against the German-Russian gas pipeline, though that is not the sole focus of the legal expert’s thinking. Tuuli Koch of the Estonian daily newspaper Postimees held an interview with Professor Heiki Lindpere, published on December 29:

According to Heiki Lindpere, the director of the Institute of Law of the University of Tartu and Law of the Sea professor, Estonia should move its maritime border to the centre of the Gulf of Finland. This is not to oppose the German-Russian gas pipeline, but for the security of the country.

[Koch] How would Estonia be protecting itself better against the German-Russian gas pipeline if we moved our maritime border to the centreline that divides the Gulf of Finland?

[Lindpere] The proposal to move the border is not directly connected to the construction of the gas utility line and it is not directed against it. When Russia and Germany came out with the gas pipeline idea, they had a legitimate expectation that it could be built within the exclusive economic zone. If we look at the UN Law of the Sea Convention, it states that a coastal country cannot obstruct the construction of a gas utility line or an undersea cable in its exclusive economic zone, except if it is done unreasonably and the sea protection aspects have not been taken into consideration. A coastal country has the right to participate in the discussion about the direction and scheme of the utility line. Estonia has made a commitment to Finland that if we plan to move the maritime border (in the Gulf of Finland) to the centre, we have to inform Finland of this at least 12 months in advance. In March 1993, when the question was discussed in Parliament, no serious arguments were presented as to why the border should be moved closer to the coast voluntarily. Would you give up 1,000 square meters of your property to your neighbour without any special reason? You would not. The minister of foreign affairs also said at the time that this was a voluntary self-limiting political act.

[Koch] Why was it decided at that time that the border should not reach the centre of the Gulf of Finland?

[Lindpere] Maybe it was considered that we were not capable of controlling the sea, but right now there are no obstacles for doing that. The wish to move the border has been postponed to the future to annul this self-limitation. We have no reason to give up the territorial waters that legitimately belong to us. That is our message, in addition to the knowledge that we should regain what is legitimately ours. Looking at this from the aspect of security policy, with the case of an exclusive economic zone, a naval ship from any other country could arrive at our maritime border and remain anchored, undertaking exercises or electronic spying. There would be nothing we could do about this. It would just demonstrate its power. But, if we were dealing with territorial waters, the ship would have to navigate through them quickly and without stopping. Stopping is only allowed in the event of an emergency or with the permission of the coastal country. According to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, it is also written that submarines have to surface and hoist their flag when they are peacefully navigating through the territorial waters, so that they are visually controllable. In an exclusive economic zone, there are no restrictions to navigating and it is allowable to navigate underwater as well as on the surface. This is an aspect of security policy with which we would be showing that we do not want naval ships to be sailing right through our territorial waters.

[Koch] Does this also concern airspace?

[Lindpere] The airspace above territorial waters is also under the sovereignty of the country and using it could incur a charge, or it could be done with a permit. In an exclusive economic zone, you can fly across it as many times as you wish without paying any fees. This is an economic aspect, but at the same time, a coastal country has much greater opportunities for the protection and maintenance of the sea environment in its territorial waters.

[Koch] How?

[Lindpere] For example, guaranteeing the safety of navigation. In your own territorial waters you can prescribe a separate scheme for naval traffic, such as what channels can be used for navigating. But, in an exclusive economic zone, you have to coordinate the traffic scheme, which is made compulsory for other ships, with the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In addition to this, criminal jurisdiction can be applied to foreign ships; for example, ships can be arrested or criminals detained. These rights do not exist in an exclusive economic zone.

[Koch] Do you admit that Russia can again use this in its own interests and blame Estonia for hostility?

[Lindpere] Russian people have their own psychology. If you hit them in the face first and then drink Bruderschaft (fraternization) together, the result will be better than when constantly groveling. However, the real question is not about Estonia doing something to oppose Russia. We have a rule prescribed within the Act of Sea Borders that the Estonian territorial waters are 12 nautical miles wide. But it cannot be read in the text of the act that an exception has been made in the Gulf of Finland and that some of the waters have been given up voluntarily. In the appendix to the act, it can be seen that for some reason we have withdrawn from the legitimate centreline. Now, it will only be necessary to make an amendment and insert the coordinates responding to the centreline. It would also not be a surprise for other countries that Estonia is making use of its legitimate right.

[Koch] But the time for gaining this right is rather delicate

[Lindpere] The idea emerged at the same time as the gas utility line, but I would not want to leave the impression that it was a response and an attempt to prevent the Russians from the construction. It could not be done, for the Russians and Germans can build on either side: the Finnish one or ours.


Demand Moving of Maritime Border

Heiki Lindpere, director of the Institute of Law of the University of Tartu, Hardo Aasmae, chairman of the Board of the Estonian Encyclopedia Publishing, Members of Parliament Igor Grazin and Juhan Parts stated in the opinion piece of yesterday's Eesti Paevaleht that Estonia should move its maritime border in the Gulf of Finland by three miles; that is, to the centreline between the coasts of Finland and Estonia. The reason for this is to stand up against the security and environmental risks connected to the construction of the Russian-German gas pipeline. In 1993, Finland and Estonia agreed that they would both withdraw from their territorial maritime border at the centreline of the Gulf of Finland by three nautical miles, thus creating a corridor of an exclusive economic zone, which has the status of being open sea.
(via BBC Monitoring)
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