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  • Naveed Abbas
  • July, 2018
  • 844
  • International

The sea is the common heritage of surrounding countries and could prove to be a significant factor that helps them forge alliances

According to uncontested hypotheses, oil and gas resources in the Caspian Sea are so rich that in the future it could turn into one of the largest petroleum centres in the Persian Gulf. This general belief has attached international importance to this region and large petroleum companies are struggling to somehow take advantage of its abundant resources.

Obviously, the sea is the common heritage of the surrounding countries and could prove to be a significant factor in helping them forge alliances. Firstly, the economic potential land resources shall be examined and then the difficulties and problems in the utilisation of these resources may be addressed.

The Caspian Sea is surrounded by five coastal countries, and has a total surface area of 371,000 square kilometres, holding 78,200 cubic kilometres of water. It is one of the richest water recourses of the world; since ancient times its fish and other natural resources have served as the main nutritional supply for the people living on its shores. The waters also serve as the habitat for rare and valuable types of fauna, flora, and caviar - one of the most important kinds of these species is the sturgeon fish. The seafood industry in nearby coastal countries is valued at more than $6 billion annually. Other important natural resources in the Caspian Sea are its plentiful gas and oil supplies.

The issue of determining the legal status of this Sea became relevant after USSR's downfall in 1991. Previously, the Caspian Sea was shared by Iran and the Soviet Union; however, the emergence of new subjects of international law raised the issue of delimitation between the five littoral countries. As the number of countries surrounding the sea suddenly increased to five, namely Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, it necessitated the revision of its legal status.

Perhaps the first treaty ever made in connection with the Caspian Sea was the Treaty of Turkmenchay,signed on February10, 1828. According to this agreement, both Iranian and Russian Commercial ships enjoyed equal navigation rights in the Caspian Sea but Russia withheld her right of entering her own warships into the Caspian. The rights of fishing and exploiting natural resources were exclusively allocated to Russians.

Through another treaty made between Iran and Russia on February 20, 1921, the former legal status was changed and all the past discriminatory contracts were cancelled. Iran was also given right to navigate freely in the Caspian under her own flag.

In 1940, another treaty was made between Iran and the Soviet Union wherein both countries were given equal rights to exploit the sea. At this point, some argue whether the Caspian is a sea or lake.

If we consider it a sea then it becomes subject to contents of the international navigation laws, especially 1982 UN convention on maritime law. In this case, according to the treaty, the Caspian must be divided into territorial waters, restricted commercial areas, and continental shelves. In other words, all five littoral countries would map out their territorial waters and exploit the resources as they see fit.

If it is designated as a lake, all the resources of the Caspian and profits there from, would be split equally among five countries. According to international laws, its use and exploitation must be defined based on agreements made between all the coastal countries involved. The word "Caspian Sea" might be rather vague because Caspian is the body of water surrounded by land and has no outlet to oceans. Therefore, the Caspian may be termed as a lake and this is the point that plays an important role in understanding its legal situation.

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, with considerable oil and gas resources proven to exist along their coasts, do not consider partnership a beneficial idea and insist that the Caspian must enjoy the legal status of a sea and that it should be divided into five sections in a way that those resources remain as their own property.

Russia in October 1994, through a note to the UN, cleared her official position in relation to exploiting mineral resources embedded in the Caspian Sea. This note indicated that the Caspian Sea is not subject to international maritime laws and regular divisions of coastal waters, restricted commercial areas and continental shelves, which were enacted by 1982 convention, is not applicable to this particular situation. The legal status of the Caspian Sea is subject to the regulation of 1the 921 and 1940 treaties made between Iran and Russia. The five coastal countries re required ...

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