“Surrendering” Blocks L & M

Ah, the famous Blocks L and M, or Blocks J and K, if you are a Bruneian (see map above). Ever since the news came up, many people have been particularly vociferous about the issue. Some actually called for the former Prime Minister to be tried for treason for “surrendering national territory” while others have called it “unconstitutional because [it is] an act of ceding territory of a State (of Sabah)”, and questioned why the Sabah State Government was not asked its permission. Serious allegations indeed.

The reality is, before the Exchange of Letters and agreement as was executed by the former PM, Malaysia was standing on rather flimsy grounds as far as international laws apply when Malaysia claimed the disputed areas as its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The relevant law is UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982) which was both ratified by Brunei and Malaysia, and came into force as international law in 1994. (Download full text of UNCLOS 1982, and see the history of the EEZ as a legal regime here.)

I quote Article 56 of UNCLOS, which covered the rights, jurisdiction and duties of the coastal State in the EEZ:

In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has: (a)sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds…

As you can see, a nation, in claiming an EEZ, has only certain rights (certainly, these rights cover subsea minerals, including oil and gas) and are far more limited as opposed to what it can exercise on land or within its 12-nautical miles territorial seas. Also, under UNCLOS, a country can claim an EEZ that starts at the seaward edge of its territorial sea and extends outward to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baseline. The coastal nation also have rights to the seabed of the continental shelf up to 350 nautical miles from the coastal baseline, where this extends beyond the EEZ. The exception to this rule occurs when EEZs would overlap; that is, national coastal baselines are less than 400 nautical miles apart. When an overlap occurs, it is up to the states to delineate the actual boundary.

As you can see from the map above, certainly Brunei has every right under UNCLOS to claim its EEZ. In fact, I am surprised that the Bruneians even deigned to throw a gratuitous bone to Malaysia in granting joint-exploration rights for 40 years in the two blocks.

Finally, let us talk about “Sabah’s” oil. Beyond 3 nautical miles of the Sabah shore, any subsea minerals, be it oil, gas or others, is not Sabah (as a state entity) to own. Let me explain: (and you lawyers knowledgeable in Federal-State laws probably know this a lot more) The limit of state waters, under Malaysian Laws, only goes to the 3 nautical miles seaward; anything further is under Federal Jurisdiction—fisheries, mining, navigation, land, environment, etc. (That is why Pulau Layang-Layang is a federal territory, and why the Sabah Government do not issue land titles or TOL in these far areas.) The Sabah Planning Bill, if I am not mistaken, only covers Sabah’s 3-nautical-miles waters, and which extends a bit more in the West Coast—the sea areas between Kota Kinabalu to Kota Belud, and the two islands, Mantanani and Megalum. So, at least in legal terms, Sabah is on shaky foundations to sue for “its” oil and gas.

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14 thoughts on ““Surrendering” Blocks L & M

  1. Malaysia realize that they will not even have a chance to win if this cases is brought to the ICJ…so rather than wasting valuable time & money to pursue its cases, they decided to discuss about it & reach an agreements that can bring a ‘win-win situation’ to both state…I’d say it is a good deal…

  2. Well, it’s waste for Sabah to lose such rich oil land, but what to do? The deal is done and we have to accept it anyway…

  3. The territory is not part of Sabah jurisdiction, it is under Federal jurisdiction.. As what my knowledge to this article…

  4. OMG! How much more complicated can this be…oh well, we will just have to wait and see coz there are a lot of assumptions going on here..This matter has been politicize..

  5. Berdasarkan perjanjian, perkara ini telah dipersetujui oleh Malaysia dan Brunei, dan kawasan tersebut telah menjadi milik Brunei.

  6. Syarikat ZEE suatu Negara yang mempunyai “hak berdaulat untuk tujuan eksplorasi dan eksploitasi, pemuliharaan dan pengurusan sumber daya alam, baik hidup atau tak hidup, dari air superjacent ke dasar laut dan dasar laut dan lapisan tanah yang” (UNCLOS , Perkara 56 (1) (a)). In other words, it has exclusive rights to exploit both the resources of the water column and the resources of the sea-bed. Dengan kata lain, ia memiliki hak eksklusif untuk mengeksploitasi sumber daya baik dari medan air dan sumber daya dasar laut.

  7. Perjanjian antara Malaysia dan Brunei telah membawa lembaran baru dalam hubungan dua hala antara kedua-dua negara, dan hasil daripada rundingan sukar selama 20 tahun mengenai pelbagai isu termasuk maritim dan sempadan. Mungkin ada kebaikannya sekiranya agar pihak tertentu dapat mengeluarkan kronologi yang membawa kepada penyerahan Blok L dan Blok M kepada Brunei dan kedudukan tuntutan Brunei ke atas Limbang, jika ada dan bila, Brunei menggugurkan tuntutan ke atas kedaulatan Limbang,

  8. Hi all:

    I say its a good deal…if true. Brunei relinquish its claim to Limbang and agree to joint-exploration rights to the two blocks. In return, Malaysia do not pursue its claims to the two blocks, which I said above, rest on rather poor legal grounds under international law.

  9. Pingback: “Surrendering” Blocks L & M (Part II) « frog on a wire

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