Ghana on Tuesday continued with its oral augments at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), hearing the dispute concerning the delimitation of the maritime boundary dispute between it and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean.
Having been given two days to present its first round of oral argument, on why Ghana should be granted the right to continue the oil exploration and exploitation operations under way in the disputed area, Ghana pointed out that its neigbours case lacked the merits to be admited at the court.
The first round of oral arguments which took off yesterday February 6 will end on February 10, 2017 while the second round will February 13 to 16, 2017, respectively.
Ms Gloria Afua Akuffo, leading the Ghanaian team yesterday during the hearing according to graphic’s Mabel Aku Baneseh, prayed the ITLOS in Hamburg, Germany, to uphold Ghana’s position on the maritime boundary dispute.
“Ghana, respectfully, asks you to affirm the customary equidistance boundary as our maritime boundary. In carrying out your task, you are assisted by a wealth of maps and charts which set out this boundary and which have been made available to you,” she said.
“Not that of maritime delimitation but rather a request to declare the existence of a boundary, to which the parties have themselves long agreed and delimited in practice and in consequence,” she added.
According to the Ms Akuffo in her opening address to the court, “Ghana asks this Special Chamber not to be swayed by the rather extravagant case Cote d’Ivoire seeks to present here by relying on a bisector theory and its related maps to create a huge area as the so-called area in dispute.”
She forcible noted that, Ghana’s neigbours, Cote d’Ivoire’s bisector claim was so unrealistic and without legal and geographical basis, to the extent that it should be dismissed in its entirety.
“After five decades of agreement and reliance, the plausible dispute, if any, is the much narrower dispute between the parties competing equidistance lines.
“Ghana, therefore, invites the Special Chamber to uphold what the parties have long observed in practice and under their respective domestic laws,” the Attorney-General said.
This comes after the outgone Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Opong formally introduced Ms Akuffo to the ITLOS Special Chamber as the person taking over from her as an agent of Ghana.
This then paved way for the Ms Akuffo as the leader of the legal and technical team to represent Ghana at the ITLOS to legally battle out the merits of the dispute concerning the delimitation of the maritime boundary dispute between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
Panel of Judges
The case is currently being heard by five-member panel of Judges duly constituted by the President of the Special Chamber, with Judge Boualem Bouguetaia, is presiding over the hearing.
The other members of the panel are judges Rüdiger Wolfrum, Germany, and Jin-Hyun Paik, the Republic of Korea with the other two ad hoc judges being Thomas Mensah, Ghana, and Ronny Abraham, France, selected by Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, respectively, per the rules of the ITLOS.
Making a case for Ghana, Ms Akuffo noted that the fairness and goodness of equidistance as a method of delimitation, in the circumstances of the case, made it understandable why the two countries adopted it as a basis for their customary boundary.
“It is impossible to think of a fairer position. Does a fairly drawn agreed line suddenly become unfair simply because one state decides that it will be economically more advantageous for it if the line were drawn somewhere else?” the Attorney-General asked.
She noted that Cote d’Ivoire had still not provided any valid reason to justify a departure from the existing and agreed maritime boundary between it and Ghana.
She said in all the negotiations before the commencement of the case, Cote d’Ivoire did not present, and had still not presented, any reasonable grounds for departing from that shared understanding which had been in existence for five decades.
The Attorney-General noted that Cote d’Ivoire only laid claim to Ghana’s boundary after Ghana discovered oil in commercial quantities.
She told the tribunal that Ghana’s oil industry had contributed significantly to reducing poverty levels among its population.
Development of Ghana’s oil industry
While denying Cote d’Ivoire’s claim that Ghana had developed its (Cote d’Ivoire’s) oilfields, Ms Akuffo said that was far from the case, adding: “The truth is that Ghana developed its oil industry based on a pre-existing maritime boundary as mutually agreed and recognised by both parties.”
“It is based on this tacit, mutual understanding that, over many years, Ghana has developed this industry step by step from the first licensing of blocks through decades of studies, exploratory drilling and the eventual drilling of wells,” Ms Akuffo argued.
She said Ghana was, therefore, taken aback when, in 2011, Cote d’Ivoire directed oil companies to stop working on Ghana’s oilfields.
Three of Ghana’s lawyers — Professor Philippe Sands of Matrix Chambers, London; Mr Paul S, Reichler of Foley Hoag Chambers, Washington, DC, and Mr Fui S. Tsikata of Reindorf Chambers, Accra — also advanced legal arguments on Ghana’s behalf.
Using maps, diplomatic correspondence and agreements between the two countries spanning five decades, the lawyers advanced arguments to justify Ghana’s position that Cote d’Ivoire had no legal and geographical basis to claim any maritime boundary from Ghana.
On February 27, 2015, Côte d’Ivoire submitted a request for the prescription of provisional measures under Article 290, Paragraph 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), requesting the chamber to order that Ghana shall, inter alia, “take all steps to suspend all oil exploration and exploitation operations underway in the disputed area”.
This comes after 10 failed negotiation attempts with Cote d’Ivoire over its maritime boundary, in view of that Ghana, in September 2014, announced that it had instituted arbitration proceedings at the ITLOS to ensure a resolution of its maritime boundary dispute with Cote d’Ivoire.
In accordance with Article 3(a) of Annex VII, Ghana appointed Judge Thomas Mensah, a former President of the ITLOS, as a member of the tribunal.
“Despite several years of good faith negotiations, including at least 10 rounds of bilateral meetings, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have been unable to agree upon the location of their maritime boundary,” then Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Opong, announced at a press conference in Accra on September 23, 2014.
The Special Chamber, on April 25, 2015, directed Ghana to take all the necessary steps to ensure that no new drilling took place in disputed areas under its control but allowed the country in an initial ruling to continue with the development of some ten wells which had been drilled.
The tribunal’s final decision according to its timetable is expected to be delivered before the end of 2017.