By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Renewing its bid to extend the nation’s sovereign rights to the high-sea areas that are rich in seabed resources, the Federated States of Micronesia has filed a new claim on extended continental shelves located in the north of Yap.
On Dec. 12, FSM President Wesley W. Simina approved a new map series that shows the FSM’s maritime zones including the vast extended continental shelves that are referred to as the Ontong Java Plateau, Eauripik Rise, Mussau Ridge and the North of Yap Area.
“These claims may be subject to overlapping claims by neighboring nations and are subject to examination by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” the office of the president said in a statement following the FSM’s new filing of the claims with the UN.
Portions of the marked territories are also being claimed by Palau and Japan. The continental shelves in question are believed to be rich in rare earth metals, which are critical components for semiconductors, smartphones, solar panels, oil, petroleum and other natural resources.
The new map is part of an amended regulation that officially recognized the permanence of maritime boundaries and continental shelf. The FSM government said this is “the first time in the history of the Pacific region” that a permanent boundary is put in place.
“This important milestone is a clear example of an ongoing process of establishing a state practice among the Pacific island nations toward domesticating the 2021 Pacific Islands Forum Declaration that considered maritime boundaries to be legally permanent—without any reduction—notwithstanding climate change-related sea-level rise,” the FSM government said.
Extended continental shelf refers to the seabed and subsoil of submarine areas that could extend beyond the normal 200 nautical miles of exclusive economic zone of the nation up to 350 nautical miles from baselines.
The claimed areas cover a high-sea area of approximately 72,500 sq.mi., which is likely rich in natural resources.
In 2022, then-FSM President David Panuelo sought to secure its partial claim on the area to ensure that it is protected from deep-sea mining and other destructive activity that might jeopardize any economic benefits it might yield for the Pacific nation.
“Without this claim being made by the FSM, the rare opportunity to increase the FSM’s seabed territory under the UNCLOS might be lost permanently,” Panuelo said in a statement on April 26, 2022, following the Department of Justice’s filing with the UN.
The FSM previously acknowledged that Palau and Japan have also lodged overlapping claims over the north of Yap. The FSM previously filed partial claims on Mussau Ridge, the Eauripik Rise and the Ontong Java Plateau. These claims were jointly submitted by the FSM, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
While renewing its territorial claims, the FSM government has taken the initiative to secure its maritime boundaries through a network of monitoring facilities that will be set up on strategic points throughout the nation.
On Dec. 22, Simina approved the establishment of the first surveillance outpost on Kapingamarangi Atoll based on the Department of Justice's recommendation.
According to a press release from the president's office, the facility will serve as an outpost for refueling, monitoring support of surveillance and law enforcement activities in FSM's territorial waters.
Kapingamarangi, the nation's southernmost island, is a rich fishing ground of this nation and borders neighboring countries. Its location and strategic value require attention, the department said.
Other outer islands considered strategic locations, such as Pulusuk and a neighboring island in Yap, will be identified in the future to be part of the network of support facilities for the nation’s Maritime Division.