Bridgetown Barbados April 12: Both Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago are claiming
victory in the maritime boundary dispute between the two islands, but Barbados says it wants a fishing agreement
between the two countries "as a matter of urgency".
Basking yesterday in the judgement of an arbitral tribunal established two years
the Owen Arthur Administration said the way was now clear for local fisherfolk to fish in Trinidad's Exclusive Economic Zone
(EEZ) but only within the parameters of an agreement between the two countries.
Additionally, the twin-island republic's 2004 claim to almost 30 000 square nautical
miles as near as 40 miles off Oistins was dismissed by the tribunal, which ceded a mere 315 nautical miles instead, and the
way was cleared for Barbados to drill in search of oil and gas offshore.
These decisions were outlined by Deputy Prime Minister and Barbados' agent in
the matter Mia Mottley and Prime Minister Owen Arthur during an afternoon news conference at the Sherbourne Conference Centre.
Key decisions of the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, Netherlands
"Establishment of a median line representing the half-way point between the two
states and affirmation of Barbados' right to a 200 nautical mile EEZ.
"Affirmation of Barbados' right to exploit hydro-carbon resources beneath the
sea bed as far as 150 nautical miles beyond the 200 nautical mile EEZ.
"Acknowledgement that Barbadian fishermen have a right to fish in Trinidad and
"The need for the two countries to reach a fishing agreement allowing fishing
in the EEZ.
"Barbados and Trinidad have to manage and conserve the fish stock around Tobago.
"In essence, the arbitral panel today (yesterday) unanimously concluded that Barbadian
fishermen must be acknowledged as having a right to access to be able to fish in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Trinidad and
Tobago, and that that access needs to be framed out through an agreement between the Governments of Barbados and Trinidad
and Tobago," Mottley said.
"It did indicate that it did not believe that it had jurisdiction to treat to
the fishing issue under the United Nations Law of the Law of the Sea Convention, but that there is a binding obligation on
the part of both governments to give life to that access of the Barbadian fishermen in terms to be agreed upon by both governments,"
Additionally, the Deputy Prime Minister said, "You can see that Trinidad and Tobago
would have lost 99 per cent of what it sought to claim and received only one per cent."
"It drew a delimitation line, which for the most part ran along the median line
(equal distance between the two states), which we have consistently believed that was an equitable position for a delimitation
line between the two countries and then at the very end just short of it, it went north giving Trinidad and Tobago 300 nautical
square miles of area, but bringing it into a line that joins with the Trinidad and Tobago line," she stated.
"When we went to arbitration in 2004, Trinidad and Tobago was claiming 30 000
square nautical miles of what we believed to be Barbados' Exclusive Economic Zone, that is the area north of the median line.
When we went to the hearing in October of 2005, Trinidad and Tobago adjusted that claim from 30 000 square nautical miles
to 15 000 nautical miles and the tribunal today has rejected that claim on the part of Trinidad and given them effectively
300 square nautical miles but, more importantly, has refused to give Trinidad and Tobago an access to the Atlantic," Mottley
Arthur said the ruling allowed Barbados to contemplate sometime in the immediate
future bringing the question of a fishing agreement to a close. "The position of the Cabinet of Barbados is that as a matter
of urgency the negotiations to conclude a fisheries agreement should be started and that this is the representation that we
will be taking to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
But Trinidad's Attorney General has indicated, that the ruling is historic since the five-member panel has established a single maritime boundary
almost smack in the middle of the waters separating both countries and creates a gateway for Trinidad and Tobago to the Atlantic
While the tribunal held that it lacked jurisdiction to make any binding decision
regarding the right of Barbadian fisherfolk to fish in Trinidad's waters, it suggested that both countries sit down an
work out an agreement to allow limited access.
Both countries emphasised before the Tribunal their willingness to find a reasonable
solution to the dispute over access to flying fish stocks.
In its 139-page ruling, the arbitrators stated:
"Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados are under a duty to agree upon measures necessary
to co-ordinate and ensure the conservation and development of flying fish stock, and to negotiate in good faith and conclude
an agreement that will accord fisherfolk of Barbados access to fisheries within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Trinidad and
Tobago, subject to the limitations and conditions of that agreement and to the right and duty of Trinidad and Tobago to conserve
and manage the living resources of waters within its jurisdiction."
The tribunal found that Barbados did not sustain its contention that their fisherfolk
have traditionally fished for flying fish off Tobago for centuries nor did it demonstrate lack of access will be catastrophic
to its fisherfolk.
Attorney General John Jeremie broke the news of the tribunal's ruling in the Senate
which was greeted by loud desk-thumping from all Government, Opposition and Independent Senators.
Barbados initiated arbitration proceedings before an Arbitral Tribunal at the
International Dispute Resolution Centre, based in The Hague, on February 16, 2004, under the provisions of the United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea following a public spat between both countries over the right of Barbadian fisherfolk to
fish in waters off Tobago.
The situation was ignited following the arrest of two Barbadian fishermen by Trinidad
and Tobago's coast guard officers who had seized their catch and charged them for fishing illegally in this country's waters
leading Barbados to end fisheries negotiations.
"While we were always confident of the outcome of these deliberations, the mere
referral of this dispute was a significant threat not just to the exploitation of our oil and gas resources but to the livelihood
of our fisherfolk, especially in Tobago, and threatened to compromise the very integrity of our treasured unitary state,"
He said the dispute also had implications regarding the maritime boundaries, especially
off Tobago's waters, as well as this country's boundaries with Grenada, Guyana, St Vincent and Venezuela.
"That is, it not only threatened the integrity of the unitary state of Trinidad
and Tobago but also our exploitation of our economic rights ...It is for this reason that from the very beginning we were
determined to defend the integrity of the unitary state of Trinidad and Tobago vigorously, firstly by seeking negotiations
with our valued Caricom partner and, subsequently when they decided to refer the matter for arbitration, recruiting to our
legal team the leading experts in the world in boundary delimitation," Jeremie added, noting that it was Cabinet's decision
for him to lead the legal team.
"Today's ruling not only confirms the legitimacy of our original position but
has also extended our maritime boundary by shifting the median line demarcating the exclusive economic zones of Trinidad and
Tobago and Barbados," he contended.
Jeremie said the Tribunal rejected "each and every claim made by Barbados on all
counts, including the attempt by the Barbados Government to secure all of the area south of the Median Line with they regarded
as their traditional fishing ground, that is the area just south of the median line which they regarded as their traditional
fishing ground, that is the area just off Tobago".
"The Tribunal also agreed to a request by Trinidad and Tobago to extend our maritime
boundary to the continental shelf beyond the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone. This was an unprecedented ruling for an international
maritime tribunal," he added