FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
1. If the continental shelf is related to the submerged part of the continents, how can it be expanded?
“Enlarging” or “extending” the continental shelf are simplified descriptions of a complex process that consists of defining the outer limits of the continental shelf where it is located beyond 200 nautical miles. Fixing the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles follows rules set out in Article 76 of the Convention and it is within this context that the concept of the Continental Shelf of Portugal, the limits of which are indicated on the "Extension Project Map”, should be understood.
2. The geological continental shelf is not subject to extension, it is a geological concept. So why is it said that Portugal is going to extend its continental shelf?
The concept of the continental shelf provided for under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is a legal concept (see answer to question No. 1)
3. Does extending the continental shelf imply extending the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)?
No, it applies only to the continental shelf (see answer to question No. 6)
4. Is it possible to extend the EEZ beyond 200 nautical miles?
No, it is not possible to enlarge or extend the EEZ beyond 200 nautical miles. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides that the EEZ may extend only up to 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the Territorial Sea is measured. The EEZ is different from the continental shelf both in terms of the applicable limits and the applicable procedures.
5. What do we have to gain from the extension of the continental shelf?
We gain sovereign rights over the continental shelf for the purpose of exploring and exploiting its natural resources, i.e. mineral resources and living organisms that exist on the seabed and in the subsoil.
6. What is the difference between the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf?
The Exclusive Economic Zone is an area located beyond the territorial sea, the breadth of which may be up to 200 nautical miles. The EEZ comprises the water column and the seabed (soil and subsoil of submarine areas). The Continental Shelf comprises only the soil and subsoil (and not the water column) throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin.
7. With the extension of the continental shelf, will we be entitled to a larger fishing area within the water column?
No, sovereign rights over the continental shelf do not include the water column. On the continental shelf, the coastal State has exclusive rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting living organisms belonging to sedentary species that exist on the seabed and/or seabed subsoil, as these are under its sovereignty.
8. What resources exist in the extended area of the continental shelf?
There are living and non-living resources. Living resources are the organisms that are in permanent physical contact with the seabed and/or seabed subsoil, such as sponges and corals. Non-living resources relate, for example, to mineral resources rich in gold, manganese, cobalt, titanium, rare earth elements, tellurium, platinum-group metals, nickel, copper, zinc and cobalt.
9. How many countries are presenting extension proposals?
As November, 2023, 93 proposals for extension of the continental shelf had been presented.
10. Is there any chance of finding oil in this new territory?
It is unlikely. The occurrence of oil in deep offshore areas is typically located relatively close to the geological continental margins. As our geological continental shelf is relatively narrow, any oil in deep offshore areas will probably be discovered in the Exclusive Economic Zone.
11. If the extension of the continental shelf only applies to the soil and subsoil, who will have sovereignty over the corresponding water column?
There is no sovereignty over the water column overlying the continental shelf of States in areas where it is located beyond 200 nautical miles. In these cases, freedom of the High Seas shall apply, i.e. its use is open to all States (as provided for under Article 87 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).
12. When can we begin to explore the territory we intend to expand?
Portugal will not exercise those rights until the completion of proceedings before the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and the filing of the statute defining those limits with the Secretary General of the United Nations. Despite the fact that the Convention does not prohibit the exploitation of resources on the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles while the proceedings are running their course, nor does any other international instrument, it happens that, due to the particular characteristics of rights over the continental shelf, Portugal is already exercising its respective sovereign rights. In 2006, Portugal created the first national Marine Protected Area located beyond 200 nautical miles, the Rainbow Hydrothermal Field, nominating it for the OSPAR Network of Marine Protected Areas (MPA).
13. Can other countries explore our shelf without our consent?
Sovereign rights over the resources on the continental shelf are exclusive and depend on effective or notional occupation, or on any express proclamation, as set out under Articles 77 and 81 of the Convention. They are exclusive because, if the coastal State does not explore the continental shelf or exploit its natural resources, no one may undertake such activities without the explicit consent of that State.
14. To whom does the territory included in the Portuguese Proposal for the Extension of the Continental Shelf belong?
The entire maritime territory under the sovereignty of a State belongs to that State.
15. Does the enlargement of the Portuguese continental shelf come into conflict with the claims of other countries?
No, the process of extending the continental shelf is distinct from the process of delimiting borders between States
16. Does the territory shown on the map correspond to the final area of extension?
No, the territory shown on the map corresponds to the proposal for the extension of the continental shelf. The final boundaries will be approved and published by Portugal, after publication of the recommendations by the United Nations (Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf).
17. When is a response from the United Nations to the Portuguese proposal expected?
After submission, on May 11, 2009, Portugal became part of the "waiting list", and in March 2017 the subcommittee (taken from the members of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf CLCS), which shall directly consider our proposal. The evaluation of the Portuguese proposal began in August 2017. The evaluation is currently underway and is expected to be assessed in the next two to three years (i.e. by the end of 2025).
18. What are the stages of the process of extending the continental shelf?
The process has the following stages:
Submission of the Extension Proposal (submission)
Presentation of the Proposal
Preliminary appraisal thereof (in order to ascertain whether there are any impediments to the assessment of the content, particularly in cases where there are disputes with other States).
Appointment of the sub-committee
Consideration of the Proposal by the sub-committee, which draws up a list of recommendations
Deliberation by the CLCS in relation to the Recommendations to be directed to the State
Publication of the Recommendations
Opportunity to present data/additional proof in support of the Proposal
Deliberation by the CLCS in relation to the new Recommendations to be directed to the State
Publication of the Recommendations
Approval and publication of the final limits of the Continental Shelf by the coastal State. This process may be followed on the United Nations website.
19. What is the composition of the Subcommission established to consider the Portuguese Submission for the Extension of the Continental Shelf?
The Subcommission is composed by 7 of the 21 members of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (http://www.un.org/depts/los/clcs_new/commission_members.htm#Members).
The CLCS Subcommission that is considering the Portuguese Submission is composed by: Helena Inniss (Chairperson) - Trinidad and Tobago, David Cole Mosher (Vice-Chairperson) - Canadá, Lawrence Asangongo Apaalse (Vice-Chairperson) - Ghana, Adnan Rashid Nasser al-Azri - Omã, Efren Perez Carandang - Philipines, and Tolojanahary Randriamiarantsoa from Madagascar.
20. When does the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf meet?
The CLCS meets for twenty-one weeks a year and lately has chosen to meet three times a year in seven weeks periods.