063- The Continental Shelf Case (Tunisia vs Libya)
On December 1st, 1978, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) received a special agreement signed by Libya and Tunisia concerning the delimitation of the continental shelf of each of the countries concerned. Article 1 of the Compromise presented the question of law as follows:
“What principles and rules of international law may be applied for the delimitation of the area of the continental shelf appertaining to the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and to the area of the continental shelf appertaining to the Republic of Tunisia, and the Court shall take its decision according to equitable principles, and the relevant circumstances which characterize the area, as well as the new accepted trends in the Third Conference on the Law of the Sea. Also, the Court is further requested to clarify the practical method for the application of these principles and rules in this specific situation. so as to enable the experts of the two countries to delimit these areas without any difficulties”.
In the course of the proceedings, Malta sought to intervene on the basis of the protection of a legal interest under article 62 of the Statute. The Court examined this question in its judgment of April 14th, 1981 and considered that the legal interest invoked by Malta could not be affected by the decision in the case and therefore rejected it.
The ICJ ruled on the merits of the case in its judgment of February 24th, 1982. It firstly defined the scope of its mission by distinguishing the two issues on which it had to decide.
It then listed the principles and rules of law that should be applied to the delimitation of the continental shelf, namely:
- Fair principles taking into account all relevant circumstances and in particular:
- The fact that the area relevant to the delimitation in the present case is bounded by the Tunisian coast from Ras Ajdir to Ras Kaboudia and the Libyan coast from Ras Ajdir to Ras Tajoura and by the parallel of latitude passing through Ras Kaboudia and the meridian passing through Ras Tajoura, the rights of third States being reserved;
- The general configuration of the coasts of the Parties;
- The existence and position of the Kerkennah Islands;
- The land frontier between the Parties, and their conduct prior to 1974 in the grant of petroleum concessions;
- The element of a reasonable degree of proportionality, which a delimitation carried out in accordance with equitable principles ought to bring about between the extent of the continental shelf areas appertaining to the coastal State and the length of the relevant part of its coast, measured in the general direction of the coastlines;
- The region under consideration, which consisted of a single continental shelf, a natural extension of the terrestrial territory of both Parties;
- The particular geographical circumstances of the case and the fact that the physical structure of the continental shelf areas did not allow for the identification of an equitable delimitation line.
The Court then gave guidance on how to apply the principles and rules of law previously established by distinguishing between two sectors, namely, close to the shore and offshore.
This summary is provided for informational purposes only, does not involve the responsibility of Dome and should in no way be used as a substitute for a careful reading of the judgment and order of the case.