Jurist says Croatia should implement arbitration award before economic zone

Koper – Croatia should first come to an agreement with Slovenia on the implementation of the border arbitration award in line with international law and only then expand its rights at sea, international maritime law professor Marko Pavliha told the STA in reference to Croatia’s plans to declare an exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic Sea.

“Croatia’s exclusive economic zone – and Italy’s as well – will strip Slovenian fishermen of the possibility to fish in the open seas, because there will be no open seas any more,” said the professor at the Faculty of Maritime Studies and Transport of the University of Ljubljana.

Croatia’s exclusive economic zone could stretch to the area which was determined as Slovenia’s junction with the open seas in the 2017 Slovenian-Croatian border arbitration award, he said.

“This is why our country should protest via diplomatic channels or restore talks on the implementation of the arbitration award in some other way.”

Pavliha finds Italy’s plans for an exclusive economic zone less problematic because it will probably not interfere with the borders under the Treaty of Osimo or the Slovenian-Croatian border arbitration award.

However, Italy should have nevertheless informed Slovenia of its intention in line with neighbourly relations, Pavliha said.

He noted that under international law both Italy and Croatia had the right to declare the zones and that the EU was silently supportive of such moves by its member states because thus its territory expands.

Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, countries have the right to declare an exclusive economic zone up to 200 nautical miles from their coastline.

This means the country has exclusive rights in this zone regarding the exploitation of marine resources, especially energy production and fishing. “It can also conduct other activities such as use the energy from water, build artificial islands, lay wires and pipelines, and explore the sea and protect the environment.”

However, where the expansion of the rights of a maritime country clashes with the interests of other countries, especially neighbouring countries, an agreement is needed with those countries under the convention, Pavliha said.

Although foreign ships are free to sail in the exclusive economic zone their freedom is nevertheless limited by the right of the maritime country to adopt its regulation and implement them, he explained.

“So at least theoretically it is possible that a country that has an exclusive economic zone stops a certain ship that is for example destined to Luka Koper and take it to its port, possibly under the pretence that it violated regulations. The affected country could then file a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice in the Hague or at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg.”

Pavliha noted that the 2017 arbitration award had mentioned that Croatia has the possibility of declaring an exclusive economic zone. Slovenia does not have this possibility but it does have communication freedoms in the area of junction with the open seas that apply for exclusive economic zones, meaning the freedom of navigation, flight, and wire and pipe laying.

Croatia must not interfere with these freedoms while exercising its rights in the zone, including in the area of junction, and it will not have jurisdiction over foreign ships there – neither Slovenian nor those of third countries.

In case of suspicion that these rights are violated, Croatia will be able to conduct oversight in its exclusive economic zone but not in the area of the junction, Pavliha said.

In line with the UNCLOS convention, Slovenia as a “geographically deprived country” would be eligible to exploration and use of marine resources in the Croatian or Italian exclusive economic zones but special agreements would be required, he noted.

The maritime law expert also said that countries had been increasingly declaring exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean in recent years. “Let me mention Cyprus, Syria, Libya, Tunis, Malta, and France and Lebanon to an extent. Even more frequent are special maritime zones that stem for the exclusive economic zone but grand slightly fewer rights, for example the fishery zone declared by Spain, and Croatia’s ecological and fisheries zone.”

Pavliha noted that Slovenia had also passed the act declaring Slovenia’s ecological protection zone and continental shelf. “But the country acted fairly and annulled it based on the arbitration award,” he said.