Sri Lanka risks losing its rights to a sea territory as big as its land mass due to a seriously flawed methodology that is being employed to locate what is called its ``one-kilometer isopach`` (the line joining points on the seabed where the thickness of the underlying sediment is one kilometer), a group of public interest activists with the patronage of the chief justice warned last week in a public statement.
``Our Nation and the Sea`` Initiative (ONS) whose conveners are Dr. Hiran W. Jayewardene, who served as Ambassador to the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea, and Mr. Razik Zarook, a former Chairman of the CWE, sounded this warning in a public statement on what it called ``a matter of urgent and very important national interest.``
What is at issue is the demarcation of the country`s continental margin boundary which will run along the 1-km isopach.
``The significance of the thickness (of this sediment layer) is that it is just above the minimum in which commercially recoverable quantities of oil and gas can be found,`` the statement said.
``The 1 km. line was the result of a compromise settlement initiated by the U.S. delegation to the (Law of the sea) Conference to reach a consensus on the settlement for Sri Lanka.``
All states are required to submit scientific information relating to their proposed continental margin boundaries to a special UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf by 2009 and Sri Lanka had expected this work to be completed this year.
The government has established a Norway funded project called DEOCOM to collect adequate data to fulfill requirements of the technical guidelines set by the Law of the Sea Conference and the marine seismic operation in this regard is due to commence soon.
``The execution and management of the DEOCOM project has failed to inspire confidence from the inception. DEOCOM was funded by Norway and the desk-top study was done by aNorwegian company.
The project has from the beginning run into difficulty,`` the ONS statement said.
The fist survey vessel commissioned for this work had failed ``on questionable grounds.`` It was re-advertised and the tender awarded on April 17 and the survey operations at sea are due to commence soon.
``The survey methodology that DEOCOM plans to adopt at sea in order to determine the 1-kilometer isopach is unsatisfactory and a matter of concern,`` the statement said. The survey should strictly conform to the boundary of the Continental Shelf and not on lines fixed arbitrarily as is being presently done.
``(This) would leave out large areas of territory to the disadvantage of Sri Lanka. Such a survey method may result even in a violation of the constitutional rights of the people of Sri Lanka, as this survey voluntarily cedes territory that would belong to Sri Lanka,`` the statement said.
It stressed that ``the line of demarcation to determine the shelf should be based on natural boundaries of the sediment and not on an arbitrary fixation that may be an easy way out for DEOCOM and a convenient method for a contractor who will be contractually bound to carry out the survey as directed by DEOCOM.``
Among the concerns expressed are:
* The existing contract does not charge the contractor with total responsibility for the basic unambiguous objective of locating the line of the 1-km. isopach.
* The `cruise track` of the survey has been arrived at desk-top studies by reference to historic data gathered on scientific expeditions by scientists from various countries. A subsequent second cruise track to be used by the survey contractor, well inward of the originally indicated 1-km isopach, has also been created.
``Would these then pre-determine the required boundary negating the need for the survey?`` ONS asked.
It asked for an opportunity to review the DEOCOM project and survey track and be given an opportunity by the government to make alternative proposals and/or re-orient the project that would guarantee success during field procedures, post-processing, preparation of the submission, making it and defending it against criticism and attack expected from other nations and/or the Commission,
ONS said that it had decided to initiate a public forum on these matters and will invite the
director of DEOCOM, legal and other experts to discuss this matter and work towards a consensus and also raise public awareness on what is best for the country.