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Both Barbados and Trinidad claim victory in maritime boundary dispute

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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 included:

"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 Tobago's EEZ.

"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," she added.

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 explained.

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 Ocean.

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," Jeremie said.

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

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