Cote D’Ivoire Seeks Provisional Measures Order from ITLOS To Stop Oil Exploration in Disputed Waters
Last September, Ghana commenced an arbitration under Annex VII of the UN Convention for the Law of Sea seeking judicial confirmation of its rights to explore for oil and other resources in maritime areas disputed by its neighbor Cote D’Ivoire. This past January, the two countries agreed to submit a dispute over maritime boundaries to a special chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. And last week, Cote D’Ivoire filed a request for Provisional Measures with the special chamber asking it to require Ghana to suspend any oil exploration activities while the matter is before the ITLOS special chamber.
Under UNCLOS Article 290, a court or tribunal with jurisdiction is empowered to issue provisional measures “which it considers appropriate under the circumstances to preserve the respective rights of the parties to the dispute or to prevent serious harm to the marine environment, pending the final decision.” I haven’t been privy to the papers filed in this case, but it does seem like Cote D’Ivoire should have a pretty reasonable provisional measures claim. Indeed, the UK oil company currently exploring the disputed waters pursuant to a contract with Ghana is already planning to suspend its operations pending the outcome of the provisional measures hearing.
The Ghana-Cote D’Ivoire dispute bears watching. If these two countries are able to settle their maritime boundary dispute where lots of oil is at stake, then this would be a pretty significant accomplishment for the UNCLOS dispute settlement system. Hello, China? Anyone there? History suggests this is going to be pretty hard, but you never know.