On the verge of the 21st century, the discovery of “Noa”, a gas field offshore Israel, reinvigorated the Eastern Mediterranean (East Med) states’ interest in the sea. Additional hydrocarbon deposits were found in the sea waters adjacent to Israel, Gaza, Cyprus and Egypt, while the United States Geological Survey estimated that the Levant Basin alone contains 1.7 million barrels of oil and 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. These developments made the regional states realize that, in order to avail themselves of the immense underwater wealth, they should first demarcate their maritime space in conformity with the law of the sea rules. This post analyses the maritime boundary delimitation agreements concluded so far in the East Med. It should be pointed out that these are the first EEZ delimitation agreements to have been signed in the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps the most noteworthy features of these arrangements is the use of the median line and the adherence of Israel to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC or the Convention) rules on the EEZ and maritime delimitation, despite the fact that it is not a state-party to the Convention.
In particular, four East Med states proceeded with the conclusion of bilateral maritime boundary delimitation agreements; the first delimitation agreement between Egypt and Cyprus in 2003 was followed by another two between Lebanon-Cyprus in 2007 (pending ratification by Lebanon); and Israel-Cyprus in 2010. All three agreements are concise and comprise five virtually identical articles each. Undoubtedly, maritime boundary delimitation is a pivotal function within the realm of the law of the sea. As the Arbitral Tribunal in the Bangladesh/India Award stressed:
“The importance of stable and definitive maritime boundaries is all the more essential when the exploration and exploitation of the resources of the continental shelf are at stake… the sovereign rights of coastal States, and therefore the maritime boundaries between them, must be determined with precision to allow for development and investment (emphasis added).”
Even though the East Med states maintain variant positions on maritime affairs, they have perceived the utility of the law of the sea apparatus in facilitating hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation, hence they decided to act within its ambit and collaborate with a view to gaining multiple profits from the energy windfall.