Malta has started the process to declare an Exclusive Economic Zone in the central Mediterranean, with the potential of extending its responsibilities by as much as 71,446 sq km beyond territorial waters, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana said on Monday.
He said an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) could hold huge economic potential in the coming years, not just for fisheries, but even artificial islands, wind farms, solar farms, wave-generated electricity and revenue from shipping movements.
Speaking in parliament, Caruana said that Malta had to date exercised responsibility over its territorial waters, extending to 12 miles (an area of 3,829 sq km) and the fisheries zone, extending to 25 miles (11,479 sq km.) The EEZ could potentially be 226 times the size of Malta.
The minister pointed out that Malta is not, at this stage, declaring how far and where its zone will extend to. That will be an exercise which will be carried out in the coming years with Malta also mindful of the obligations it would need to shoulder, especially its capacity to ensure there is adequate maritime environmental protection.
In this case one would need to avoid repeating at sea the mistakes made on land, but there was no doubt that the benefits outweighed the obligations.
Nationalist MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici said the Opposition was backing the bill. He said the history of Exclusive Economic Zones went back to the initiative taken by the Borg Olivier government through its UN representative Arvid Pardo and later David Attard, who had pioneered the International Law of the Sea, which, however, was based on the common heritage of mankind and protection of the sea, rather than economic benefit.
Mifsud Bonnici said the declaration of the various areas constituting the EEZ must be a cautious and well-studied exercise, safeguarding Malta’s rights but considering the conflicting claims of other countries. There was also need for Malta to have the capacity to monitor the areas under its responsibilities.
One only needed to recall how Libya had once declared a 200-mile EEZ which would have put Malta within it, he remarked.
Malta had also ended up in the international court in the 1980s over the delineation of the continental shelf with Libya and oil drilling rights.
Winding up the debate, Caruana welcomed the Opposition’s backing and said Malta would proceed cautiously as the Opposition MP had also pointed out, but if there were conflicting claims one may have to end up in court.