Implications for Maritime Boundary Delimitation by Agreement of States

The law of the sea has become a driver of the progressive development of international law as a consequence of the rich case law that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and a series of arbitral tribunals have been developing.

On Saturday 28th November 2015, the College of Law and Criminology at Swansea University hosted a workshop that brought together leading experts in this field. Attending were Judge Rüdiger Wolfrum of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and a (presiding) judge of several arbitral tribunals, Professors Malcolm Evans, Bristol, Robin Churchill, Dundee, Sir Michael Wood, 20 Essex Street Chambers, and Professor Volker Roeben, Swansea. Professor Elwen Evans QC, head of the College of Law and Criminology, opened and attended the workshop.

The workshop focused on the rules for the delimitation of maritime boundaries between states with opposite or adjacent coasts. Many maritime boundaries at present remain undelimited. However, legally certain rules for such delimitation are essential for the sustainable development of the vast living and non-living resources of the water column and the seabed. The universal UN Convention on the Law of Sea 1982 provides little guidance e in this regard. This void has been filled by case law of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and arbitral tribunals. The workshop concentrated on the culmination of this case law in the recent award in the case between India and Bangladesh on delimitation in the Bay of Bengal. That tribunal has stated that the so-called "Equidistance-relevant circumstances" rule is now acquis judiciaire and as such part of international law. The presentations by the speakers explored the implications of that statement. Critically discussed were this rule, its status in international law, the binding effect for future cases, and the binding effect, if any, for states when delimiting their maritime boundaries by way of agreement.

The format of this workshop, taking place under Chatham House rules, allowed for the in-depth exchange of views on this critical development. It was welcomed by all participants. Building on its success, it is envisaged to establish a series of such workshops on the most salient issues of oceans governance based on institutionalised normative order, through the prism of the fast developing international jurisprudence.

The next event in the series is pencilled in for the summer of next year, focusing on the South China Sea disputes.