PAPUA New Guinea’s National Executive Council has enacted a new law governing its maritime boundaries and other factors after repealing what it said was outdated legislation.
The Maritime Zones Bill 2014 replaces the National Seas Act 1977 – the latter having failed to comply with international accepted standards for the technical and legal governance of oceans.
Laws which observe the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) have been broadly adopted internationally, with new rules for delimitation of maritime boundaries, environment protection and resources exploitation for both living and non-living resources.
UNCLOS also governs the conduct of marine scientific research, including various rights, duties and responsibilities accorded to Coastal States to sustainably govern their respective oceans.
According to a study prepared for the United States’ Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, within the US Department of State, the 1977 laws failed to address navigation matters and did not meet the requirements of UNCLOS, which PNG ratified in 1997.
Specifically, the mapping baselines drawn did not joint the outermost points of the outermost islands of the PNG archipelago.
Announcing the changes, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said that cabinet had declared PNG an archipelagic coastal state under the convention.
The Cabinet had also agreed to approve and recognise the new archipelagic baseline.
This declaration will impact how PNG develops its mapping baselines under UNCLOS.
He also said Cabinet had agreed for PNG to disseminate the approved charts and maps to the UN Secretary General after the Bill was passed as law.
“Cabinet further endorsed and directed the Department of Justice and Attorney General to create an Office of Oceans to oversee the Maritime Zones legislation in consultation with key stakeholder departments and ensure it is consistent with the government’s Vision 2050,” Mr O’Neill said.
Cabinet also approved ongoing funding for work on the Maritime Boundaries Delimitation Project, which would be assumed into the Office of Oceans.
Variations to the boundaries are of great significance to Papua New Guinea’s national security, deep sea mining and fisheries industry.