International law

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions: The Treaty between Norway and Russia concerning maritime delimitation and cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

Treaty between the Kingdom of Norway and the Russian Federation concerning Maritime Delimitation and Cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean


What are the key features of the maritime delimitation treaty of 15 September 2010?

The treaty signed by the Norwegian and Russian Foreign Ministers on 15 September 2010 defines the maritime delimitation line between Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The treaty ensures continuation of the parties’ close cooperation in the sphere of fisheries and will not adversely affect the opportunities for Norwegian or Russian fishermen to fish in the Barents Sea. The treaty also contains provisions on cooperation regarding transboundary hydrocarbon (oil and gas) deposits. The treaty will have to be approved by the Norwegian Storting and the Russian Duma before it can enter into force.


What is a maritime delimitation line for the 200-mile zones and the continental shelf?

A maritime delimitation line defines the jurisdictional boundary between the parties in accordance with international law. This concerns the continental shelf and the 200 mile zones. It does not, however, limit the freedoms of the high seas, including the freedom of navigation.


What was the point of departure for the negotiations?

In the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean Norway and Russia had overlapping claims to the continental shelf and zones. The disputed area of overlapping claims constituted an area of 175 000 km². The disputed area was defined by a sector line in the west and a median line in the east. The sector line initially claimed by the Soviet Union/Russia runs roughly along 32˚E from the westernmost point on the Russian Arctic coastline northwards to the North Pole. It originated from a Soviet decree of 1926 on annexation of the territories north of the Soviet mainland. The median line initially claimed by Norway is a line every point of which is equidistant from the Norwegian and Russian coastlines. For an unofficial, illustrative map showing the sector line, the median line and the area of overlapping claims between them, please click here.


Where are the rules on 200-mile zones and the continental shelf to be found?

Rules on 200-mile zones and the continental shelf are set out in detail in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 (UNCLOS), to which both Russia and Norway are parties. In all, 159 of the UN’s 192 member states are parties to the Convention. The text of UNCLOS can be found here.


What does UNCLOS say about the maritime delimitation of 200-mile zones and the continental shelf?

Under UNCLOS, all coastal states automatically have a continental shelf that extends at least 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coastline. States that have submarine geological prolongations that extend beyond this distance must submit documentation to this effect to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, an international commission based in New York, for approval. The Commission issued its final recommendations on the outer limits of the Norwegian continental shelf in the High North in March 2009. Coastal states are also entitled to establish 200-mile zones. Article 74  of UNCLOS contains provisions on the delimitation of 200-mile zones in cases where two or more States have overlapping claims. Corresponding rules for overlapping claims to the continental shelf are to be found in article 83.


What else does international law say about how a delimitation line is to be drawn in areas where there are overlapping claims?

In particular, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has clarified international law in this area. There may be reason to adjust or move a delimitation line, as compared to a median line, particularly in cases where there are major disparities in the parties’ coastal lengths. This methodology has to a large degree been consolidated and refined in ICJ judgments. At the same time, international law provides for a certain degree of discretion in negotiations between neighbouring countries.


How will the fisheries in the previously disputed area be affected?

The maritime delimitation treaty ensures the continuation of the excellent fisheries cooperation between Norway and Russia in the whole of the Barents Sea. The Norwegian-Russian Joint Fisheries Commission will continue to play a key role in the management of the fisheries resources in the Barents Sea. Since we now agree on the maritime delimitation line, we no longer need the Grey Zone Agreement, which is a provisional practical arrangement for fisheries control and enforcement in a specified area of the Barents Sea. This agreement will no longer apply when the maritime delimitation treaty enters into force.


What significance will the treaty have for the exploitation of possible hydrocarbon deposits in the area?

The treaty has detailed regulations and procedures to ensure efficient and responsible management of hydrocarbon resources in cases were any single oil or gas deposit should extend across the delimitation line – so-called unitisation rules. These provisions are modelled on similar provisions in other treaties. Since the 1980s, Norway and Russia have agreed not to carry out exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbon resources in the disputed area. This moratorium will come to an end when the treaty enters into force. Possible hydrocarbon resources in the area have not been an issue in the negotiations. The negotiations have been based on the Law of the Sea and rules and principles for maritime delimitation.