Law no 8.617, dated January 4, 1993, which addresses the Territorial Sea, the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf, and sets other provisions, according to its sole paragraph of article 11, its states that the “Outer limit of the Continental Shelf will be established according to the criteria provided by Art. 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), agreed upon in Montego Bay, on December 10, 1982, and that entered into force in Brazil on November 16, 1994, in accordance with Decree no 1.530, dated June 22, 1995”.
This Convention, in its article 4 of annex II, states that:
“Where a coastal State intends to establish, in accordance with article 76, the outer limits of its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, it shall submit particulars of such limits to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, along with supporting scientific and technical data as soon as possible but in any case within 10 years of the entry into force of this Convention for that State. The coastal State shall at the same time give the names of any Commission members who have provided it with scientific and technical advice.”
The Brazilian Continental Shelf Survey Plan (LEPLAC) is the Government program created by Decree nº 98.145, dated September 15, 1989, aimed at legally establishing the outer limit of our Continental Shelf, that is, establishing the maritime area, beyond the 200 nautical miles, on which Brazil will exercise its sovereign rights to explore and exploit the natural resources of the seabed and subsoil.
The continental shelf of a coastal State, as provided by Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles (M) from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance.
The continental margin comprises the submerged prolongation of the land mass of the coastal State, and consists of the seabed and subsoil of the shelf, the slope and the rise. It does not include the deep ocean floor with its oceanic ridges or the subsoil thereof.
According to Articles 76 and 77 of UNCLOS, the LEPLAC will allow Brazil to incorporate a broad area beyond the 200 nautical miles from the baselines. On its Continental Shelf, Brazil shall exercise sovereign rights for purposes of exploring and exploiting its mineral and other non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil together with living organisms belonging to sedentary species, that is to say, organisms which, at the harvestable stage, either are immobile on or under the seabed or are unable to move except in constant physical contact with the seabed or the subsoil.
Based on that legal framework, the LEPLAC activities began in June, 1987, with the first Survey Commission, carried out by the Oceanographic Ship called “Almirante Câmara”, of the Hydrography and Navigation Directorate (DHN) of the Navy of Brazil.
Under coordination of the Inter-ministerial Commission for the Resources of the Sea (CIRM), created per Decree, in 1974, with aim at advising the President of the Republic in achieving the National Policy for the Resources of the Sea (PNRM), these activities were developed together with the Brazilian Navy’s Hydrograph and Navigation Directorate (DHN), the Petroleo Brasileiro (PETROBRAS) and the Brazilian Scientific Community, our pioneers of the East.
During the entire data collection stage, that ended in November, 1996, which relied on four ships of the Navy of Brazil, approximately 230,000 seismic, bathymetric, gravimetric and magnetometric profiles were gathered throughout the extension of the Brazilian continental margin.
The proposal for the Outer Limit of the Brazilian Continental Shelf is made up of three parts, namely:
Parte I – Executive Summary;
Parte II – Main Part; and
Parte III – Supporting Scientific Data and Technical Information, it was sent to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), on May 17, 2004, through the Ministry of Foreign Relations, for analysis by that Commission. The presentation and explanation of our proposal took place from August 30, 2004 to September 17, 2004, in front of the CLCS and a subcommission of 7 experts within that commission, who were assigned to analyze the proposal in detail.
Further, there were interactions with that subcommission in April/May, 2005, August/September, 2005, March and September, 2006. On March 27, 2007, the last integration with the CLCS took place, and at that time, the scientific and technical arguments that founded the Brazilian proposal were explained in greater detail.
The 960 thousand km2 corresponding to the total area requested beyond the two hundred nautical miles are spread out along the Brazilian coast, mainly in the North (region of the Amazon Cone and North Brazilian string), Southeast (Region of the Vitória-Trindad and São Paulo plateau string) and South (region of the Santa Catarina plateau and Rio Grande Cone) regions and are equivalent to the sum of the areas of the states of Paulo, Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. Thus, the ocean area under Brazil’s jurisdiction adds up to 4.4 million km2, which is equal to approximately half of the land area of our territory, and is perceived as the Blue Amazon.
In April 2007, after completing analysis of our proposal, the CLCS sent its recommendations to the Brazilian Government. These recommendations, under technical-scientific analysis, did not fully satisfy the Brazilian request, and Brazil did not accept them. Therefore, of the approximately 960 thousand km2 claimed, beyond the 200 nautical miles, the CLCS did not agree to about 190 thousand km2 spread out through the following areas of the Brazilian Continental Shelf: Amazon Cone and Brazilian North and Vitória-Trindad Strings and the South Continental Margin. The area that was not accepted by the CLCS corresponds to approximately 4.2% of our Blue Amazon and 19% of our extended continental shelf.
Consequently, during its 168th Ordinary Session, CIRM decided for the design of a Revised Proposal of the Outer Limit of the Brazilian Continental Shelf beyond the two hundred nautical miles, to be timely forwarded to the CLCS. Then the design of such revised proposal was authorized by his Excellency Mr. President of the Republic, through decision made based on Explanatory Statement no. 263, dated June 16, 2008, published in the Official Gazette no 127, of July 4, 2008.
To prepare such Revised Proposal, the continental margin was divided into three regions:
- South region
- Equatorial region
- East region
Although the revised proposal is under preparation, the considerable progress achieved in the South Region has motivated the decision to hold the Partial Proposal of this Region, whose deadline for preparation was October 2014, as decided at the 63rd Ordinary Session of the Subcommittee For LEPLAC, held on September 11, 2013. The aforementioned proposal was issued on the date scheduled, forwarded to the UN in April 2015 and presented to that Organization on August 26, 2015. It is currently under review by a Subcommittee Of the CLCS. The Equatorial Region proposal was issued in May 2016 and will be timely sent to the UN. Currently the proposal of the Eastern Region is being prepared.
No doubt, definition of the outer limit of the continental shelf will be a very important legacy for the future of the next generations of Brazilians, who will see enhanced possibilities of discovering new oil fields, exploration of marine biodiversity resources and exploitation of mineral resources in deepwater, which is not yet economically feasible.
Also thanks to the experience gained from the LEPLAC, Brazil now has unique technical capacity with regards to establishing sea limits. This opens perspective for the country to perform in the international technical cooperation arena, and advise other Coastal States in establishing the outer limits of their continental shelves.
Establish the outer limit of The Brazilian Continental Shelf.