Sri Lanka�s sea

Sri Lanka and India clash over Indian Ocean shelf expansion

Sri Lanka’s ambitious bid to extend its continental shelf beyond its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has encountered a significant hurdle due to overlapping claims from India, leading both nations to seek bilateral discussions to resolve the issue, according to a high-level source.

In 2009, Sri Lanka submitted comprehensive technical and scientific data to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, seeking to establish the outer limits of its continental shelf, extending beyond the standard 200 nautical miles EEZ designated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Despite the submission and subsequent engagements since 2016, where Sri Lanka has conducted 11 rounds of talks with a dedicated sub-commission of the UN, progress has been stymied. Although Sri Lanka has reportedly satisfied the sub-commission’s requirements for defining its continental shelf, final approval from the UN Commission is pending.

Last year, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Ali Sabry, garnered Cabinet approval to establish the National Ocean Affairs Committee, aimed at coordinating efforts with the UN sub-commission.

However, tensions arose when India also asserted claims overlapping with those of Sri Lanka. During a recent visit to Sri Lanka, Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar assured Minister Sabry that India would review and address the matter accordingly.

Under UN protocol, disputes over overlapping claims must be resolved bilaterally before further international action can be taken.

Meanwhile, India has separately approached the International Seabed Authority in Jamaica to seek approval for exploring the Afanasy Nikitin Seamount, a cobalt-rich region in the central Indian Ocean. This move by India has further complicated matters, as the seamount lies within the zone claimed by Sri Lanka in its continental shelf expansion plan.

Cobalt, a critical mineral essential for electric vehicles and batteries, is increasingly valued in the context of global efforts towards green energy transition.