Why maritime borders are a sensitive subject?

Morocco and Spain are preparing to negotiate again the delimitation of their territorial waters on the Atlantic coast where Moroccan waters overlap those of the Canary Islands. The result of the negotiations will be a test for the new Morocco-Spain relationship launched in April.

On hold for 15 years, the Working Group on the delimitation of the maritime areas of the Spain-Morocco Atlantic coast has resumed its activities in recent months thanks to the reconciliation of Morocco and Spain after a major diplomatic crisis. caused by the illegal reception in Spain of the leader of the Sahrawi separatist militia, Brahim Ghali.

Created in 2003, this working group must meet again, after a first meeting in May, to continue the dialogue between the two countries in order to set the limits of the maritime borders of each although international maritime law is clear on this subject. and that Morocco has already fixed its borders.

The subject nevertheless remains sensitive and important for both countries, and it is for this reason that this point was included in the Moroccan-Spanish roadmap set during the visit of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to Morocco, who signed reconciliation between the two kingdoms.

The negotiations should be more fluid because of the new position on the Sahara adopted by Spain, which recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty over its southern provinces and believes that the autonomy proposal is the best solution to put an end to this sterile conflict fomented by Algeria. Thus Madrid recognizes the sovereignty of Morocco over the maritime waters adjacent to the Sahara.

If this Spanish recognition and the delimitation made by Morocco seem to be two elements in favor of Morocco and also seem to indicate that the task of negotiations is easy, in reality, the introduction of the return of negotiations between the two countries on this maritime zone reveals interests on the side of Spain.

These waters have a subsoil rich in rare minerals that are highly sought after by various industries, in particular that of renewable energies but also electric cars. These include Tellurium and Cobalt, used in the manufacture of solar panels and batteries for electric cars.

The maritime zone to be negotiated includes a 200-mile section close to the territorial waters of Morocco and the Canary Islands, and which, according to the Moroccan route, are part of Morocco’s sovereignty. Within this 200-mile zone is Mount Tropic, a mineral-rich seamount.

Morocco enacted in December 2020, two laws relating to its guardianship over 12 miles for the territorial sea and 24 miles for the contiguous zone, also establishing 200 miles for the exclusive economic zone and a maximum of 350 miles for the continental shelf.

These laws are legal adjustments that should have been made a long time ago since there is a dahir bearing law n° 1.73.211, which sets the limit of territorial waters and the exclusive fishing zone since March 1973.

Moreover, Morocco signed the international convention of the law of the sea of ​​Montego Bay in 1982, and ratified it in 2007. Contrary to what could be said in the Iberian press, and according to which, Morocco would have taken a unilateral position by delimiting its maritime space, in reality it is Spain that has done so and on several occasions.

Moreover, by announcing this decision, Morocco had shown its readiness to negotiate directly with Spain, which at the time qualified the Iberian position.

As a reminder, in 2000, Spain carried out a unilateral, so-called “technical” delimitation of the maritime space of the Canary Islands on the basis of the median line. Morocco had officially protested.

In 2002, Spain had presented a Spanish royal decree (n° 1462/2001) which granted an offshore oil exploration permit in the region between the Canary Islands and the Moroccan coast off Tarfaya. This unilateral decision, once again, did not fail to make Morocco react, which had indicated that this granted authorization extended over an area located beyond the territorial sea of ​​the Canary Islands.

In 2010, Spain enacted “Law 44/2010 on Canarian waters” and Morocco reacted by expressing “its reservations about the latter’s interpretation, in the said law, of the provisions of Part IV of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of ​​10.12.1982 concerning the regime of archipelagos”.

Despite all these elements that demonstrate the sensitivity of the subject for both parties, Madrid and Rabat are very open and optimistic to find a framework that will respect their new relationship worthy of the 21st century.

At the end of May, the head of Spanish diplomacy, Jose Manuel Albares declared in an interview granted to the newspaper Diario de Avisos that ” the most important thing now is to maintain good relations with Morocco, which has allowed the return of dialogue between the two parties and the establishment of mutual respect in order to avoid unilateral decisions” in both ways.

The two countries will have to find a mutual agreement in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Sea and the international laws in force.

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