Azerbaijan International

Winter 1994 (2.4)
Page 30

The Status
of the Caspian

by Khoshbakht Yusifzade
SOCAR Vice President for Geology and Geophysics

Who has the rights to the Caspian Sea offshore Azerbaijan where the three oil fields (Azeri, Chirag and Guneshli) are located? Azerbaijan is absolutely positive that international law protects them and the Western Consortium Members which recently signed the Oil Contract on September 20th. Russia on various occasions since the signing of the Contract has tried to raise doubts.

Photo: Dr. Khoshbakht Yusifzade

According to international conventions, there is a significant difference between the fishing rights and mineral rights in the sea. Those who have little knowledge of legal aspects of the sea usually confuse the fishing rights with the right of using the mineral resources. In the international arena, the division of sea floors among the countries for using the mineral resources, has long been a common practice. If, for instance, the fishing rights of a certain country are limited to 12 miles, this does not mean that its mineral resources must also be restricted to the same boundary.

With mineral resources, the seabed is taken to consideration and not the sea surface. And since the bed is comprised of soil (not water), there are definite measurable boundaries that exist between countries. Usually the sea is divided among countries by obtaining the same distance from offshore to the center of the sea for each country (other methods, of course, have been used). By doing this, all of the sea floor is divided among a neighboring countries.

The boundaries of the North Sea are one of the best examples. More than 30 years have passed since Britain, Norway, Holland and other countries have been sharing the North Sea's mineral resources, using this method of division and there have been no major conflicts between them.

Let's now look at the Caspian Sea in this respect. Beginning with the 1970s, all the research, discoveries, geophysical findings and exploitation of the gas and oil resources have always been given and carried out by Azerbaijan's oil specialists, researchers and workers. In that period, Azeri expert oilmen discovered more than 15 petroleum reservoirs, including the Azeri, Chirag, Guneshli, and Kapaz fields in the Azerbaijan sector of the Caspian.

The fields of Livanov East, Lum, Gubkina, Barinova and Prechelikensky Kupol were found in the Turkmenistan sector; and Inche Sea #1 and #2 were in the Russian sector. Azerbaijan used to prepare Annual Reports on these projects for all other Caspian Republics. To solve the problems concerning the Caspian, the sea had been divided into economical regions among the neighboring republics (excluding Iran which had her own sea boundary with the Soviet Union) by the leadership of the Soviet Oil Industry and the relating republics. This was carried out by the internationally accepted law of extending an equal distance from each shore to the center of the sea until the boundaries met. If any republic had any islands offshore, the starting point was measured from the island's shore. No republic, including Russia, had criticized this type of division (in the past).

The Caspian Sea has been divided in this way for 19 years-so that Azerbaijan had about 80,000 sq. km., Turkmenistan almost the same, Kazakhstan had 113,000 sq. km., and Russia had 64,000 sq. km. of the Caspian floor. There was complete unanimity among all the States regarding the division at that time.

This was confirmed by a statement of Mr. Chernomyardin, the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, during a seminar held in Astrakhan in November 1993. Recent negotiations in Moscow between Azerbaijan's President, Heydar Aliyev, Mr. Chernomyardin and Mr. Kozyrev, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, have confirmed the principle of the division of the Caspian Sea into such economic zones. In regard to the ecological questions, it is only reasonable that in the future a joint committee, involving all the states that border the Caspian, should be established to oversee the entire regional ecosystem and environment.

From Azerbaijan International (2.4) Winter 1994.
© Azerbaijan International 1994. All rights reserved.

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