‘Korea should make greater investment in continental shelf’

By Shin Hyon-hee
  • Published : Jul 10, 2012 - 19:57
  • Updated : Jul 10, 2012 - 19:58
Korea should ramp up efforts to defend its interests in the continental shelf that promises access to vast seabed resources and opportunities for scientific discovery, Park Yong-ahn, vice chairman of the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, said.

The professor emeritus of oceanography at Seoul National University was reelected to the New York-based body in June for his fourth five-year term.

The agency was established in 1997 to facilitate the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea by making recommendations on the outer limits of its 161 member states’ continental shelves beyond their 200 nautical mile (370 kilometers) exclusive economic zones.

Park, 75, said that while other countries such as Japan and China set aside massive funds for geological surveys and drilling programs, Korea’s investment remains relatively petty due to the complexity of the subject and weak public awareness and political backing. 
Park Yong-ahn. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

“It costs a massive sum of money to write a formal report because it requires an extensive survey, analysis and other work. There are not many people who have sufficient knowledge of the continental shelf either,” said Park in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

“But Korea should be more active though its study is comparatively small in line with its size of land. It’s one of national priorities ― we need to join forces of the government, lawmakers and scientists.”

Japan, for example, funneled about 1 trillion won ($875 million) into its 2008 documents submitted to the U.N. CLCS. It claimed some 740,000 square kilometers as its continental shelf, about 42 percent of which has been recognized so far.

China has also been aggressive in exploring the continental shelf, which is believed to hold a substantial amount of oil, gas and other minerals.

The country recently created a manned submersible capable of operating up to 6 kilometers below the surface and aims to secure at least 15 high-tech deepwater exploration vehicles by 2020. It is expected to file an official claim next year.

Park became interested in strata under the sea floor during his doctoral study at the University of Kiel in northern Germany between 1970 and 1973. He opened the first marine geology class at SNU in 1975, earning the nickname “the father of Korean marine geology.”

“As a scientist rather than a commission member, I’ve been trying to convince public officials and politicians for more than a decade that we need to study our own maritime territory and related laws to properly exercise our own rights,” Park said.

“It also would help them better handle the diplomatically sensitive matter given that the EEZs of Korea and Japan overlap.”

The Foreign Ministry said last week it plans to submit a formal report later this year, which will give shape to its May 2009 preliminary claim that its sea shelf stretches to the Okinawa Trough in the East China Sea. Japan and China oppose the assertion.

Once the documents are turned in, the CLCS will assess them and make a recommendation, setting a legal ground for the country to exert rights of access to seabed resources.

The agency’s decision carries legal binding force based on the Convention, which allows its member nations to claim control of the underlying seabed beyond their EEZ boundaries if they prove the ocean floor is naturally connected to its continental shelf.

By Shin Hyon-hee (