OTTAWA: Canada announced Monday the filing of a UN application seeking to vastly expand its Atlantic sea boundary, and signalled intentions to eventually also claim Arctic waters and the North Pole.
The claim, after a decade of surveying the country’s eastern and far north seabeds and gathering supporting evidence, was submitted to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on Friday.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the filing mainly concerns the outer limits of Canada’s continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean.
But it also includes “preliminary information concerning the outer limits of (Canada’s) continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean,” he said.
“Work to determine the full extent of our continental shelf in the Arctic continues and could include obtaining further data around the North Pole,” he added.
Asserting sovereignty over an expansive Arctic archipelago and surrounding waters has been a key plank of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tories in the past three elections.
But Russia and Denmark are expected to file overlapping claims, which could lead to confrontation between the Arctic neighbors.
Interest in the polar region has exploded as rising temperatures open up shipping routes and make hitherto inaccessible mineral resources easier to exploit.
The North Pole seabed itself is not believed to hold large reserves but has symbolic value for the countries in the region, which also includes Norway and the United States.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said expanding Canada’s Arctic boundary is important for “Canada’s long-term economic prosperity.”
Observers, however, note that energy firms face harsh conditions in the Arctic, and environmental concerns could delay resource extraction in the pristine waters.
Just gathering supportive evidence for Canada’s claim has been a challenge, commented Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.
“The Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Geological Survey of Canada have collected a great deal of data in areas that are ice-covered, difficult to access, and that in some instances had not previously been surveyed,” the minister said.
Nations bordering the Arctic currently are entitled to a 200-nautical-mile economic zone from their coastlines, but claims for extending their territories are to be decided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In order to be successful Canada must show that its continental shelf extends beneath the North Pole.
The UN is scheduled to consider Canada’s partial submission in July-August 2014. (AFP)