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France lays claim to more seafloor

Bid to extend continental shelf round overseas territories could give access massive oil, gas and mineral resources

10 October 2013

FRANCE is laying claim to an extra two million square kilometres of ocean floor – four-fifths of the size of the Mediterranean - as it seeks to access undersea oil and mineral resources.

It is already the world’s second largest owner of ocean floor after the US due to its overseas territories but wants to extend its claim to the continental shelf, beyond the internationally recognised Exclusive Economic Zone at 200 miles from its shores.

The French claim, under the 1982 United Nations Montego Bay Convention, covers the globe from Réunion in the Indian Ocean to Guyane in South America and the Conseil Economique, Social et Environnemental (CESE), which represents key economic, social and environmental groups, has called for the government to speed up the process.

It could lead to major economic benefits with oil and gas resources off Guyane in South America, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon in the north Atlantic and New Caledonia in the Pacific ; rare earth minerals (used in many new technologies such as mobile phones) in French Polynesia, and iron, manganese and cobalt deposits on the ocean floor round Wallis-et-Futuna in the south Pacific.

France already has 11million square kilometres of ocean floor and lodged claims covering 14 geographic zones with the United Nations in 2009 and has, so far, seen five accepted; in the Bay of Biscay, off Guyane, the Antilles, Kerguelen islands and south-east New Caledonia. These cover 600,000sq.km.

Four others are being decided at the moment – for Réunion, Saint-Paul-et-Amsterdam, Wallis-et-Futuna and the Crozet islands – but the CESE says the government is not moving fast enough on the remaining claims due to conflicting claims from other countries.

One major bone of contention is the island of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, where France’s claim is contested by Canada.

CESE has called for the France foreign ministry to come to agreements with the countries concerned to get the process moving again.

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