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Slovenia awarded access to international waters

The Hague, 29 June - Slovenia got more than 75% of the 19 square kilometre Bay of Piran, which forms a key part of its coast, as part of the award delivered by the Hague-based arbitration tribunal on Thursday. It also got official access to the high seas with the creation of a 100 square km strip that has become a mixture of Croatian and international waters.

Ljubljana
The map of the Slovenian-Croatian border in the Bay of Piran as determined by the Hague-based international arbitration tribunal.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

Ljubljana
The map of the Slovenian-Croatian border in the Bay of Piran as determined by the arbitration tribunal.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

Ljubljana
The map of the Slovenian-Croatian border in the Bay of Piran and Slovenia's junction to the high seas.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

Ljubljana
The map of the Slovenian-Croatian border in the Bay of Piran as determined by the arbitration tribunal.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

The border at sea as well as parts of the coastline along the Dragonja river were among the most sensitive parts of the arbitration, while the tribunal was also tasked with determining Slovenia's "junction to the high seas".

The Dragonja river was confirmed as the border, although Slovenia wanted three settlements on the left bank of the river.

The mouth of the river was also picked as the starting point for the dividing line in the Bay of Piran, with the tribunal connecting it to 45° 30' 41,7'', a point at the top of the bay that gives Slovenia around 75% of the bay.

The tribunal president, judge Gilbert Guillaume explained that the tribunal had taken into account that Slovenian police had been much more active in the bay before both countries became independent in 1991. Croatia had wanted half of the bay.

The tribunal argued that Slovenia, which had laid claim to the whole of the bay, did not exercise over its entirety in 1991, while Croatia had also fallen short of controlling the half it had wanted.

When drawing the border beyond the said point at the top of the bay, the arbitrators took into account the boxing in configuration of Croatia's coast, deciding for an "equidistance" line that is moved slightly to the south.

As to Slovenia's "junction" with the high seas, a task set to the tribunal as Croatia agreed to arbitration in the face of Slovenia's blockade of its EU accession talks, the tribunal set down a junction area extending over about 100 square kilometres.

It is defined as a kind of mixture of Croatian and international waters but with all rights that apply to international waters.

The tribunal considers that the term "junction" has an essentially spatial meaning and connotation and that it "signifies the physical location of a connection between two or more areas". In the given case this means "the connection between the territorial sea of Slovenia and an area beyond the territorial seas of Croatia and Italy".

The freedoms granted in the junction area and not limited to Slovenia include "the freedoms of navigation and overflight and of the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms".

The five-strong tribunal clarifies that this does not include the freedom to explore, exploit, conserve or manage the natural resources of the waters, the seabed or subsoil in the area.

The tribunal explains that, unlike transit passage, the freedoms of communication in the junction area "are exercisable as if they were high seas freedoms exercisable in an exclusive economic zone".

While Croatia will keep the right to set rules and legislation for the area that are in line with international standards, the ruling indicates that it would not really have the right "to take action to enforce its laws and regulations in that area".

Slvenia's international law expert Marko Pavliha told the STA that the strip remains Croatian territorial sea de iure, while de facto the area equals international waters.

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© STA, 2017