First 100 days: Appeal to be lodged to recover maritime area

President-elect Dr. Mohamed Muizzu at a ceremony to unveil his administration's 100-day plans on November 15, 2023. (Photo/Elyiz)

President-elect Dr. Mohamed Muizzu, who is scheduled to be sworn in on Friday, has announced appealing the ruling by International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in the maritime dispute between Maldives and Mauritius as part of his plan for the 100 days of his administration.

A special ceremony was held on Wednesday night to unveil the incoming administration’s first 100-day plans.

ITLOS, on April 28th, concluded that the conflicting Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between Mauritius and Maldives will be divided between the two using the equidistance formula as argued by Maldives in the case.

Thus, Maldives gained 47,232 square kilometers from the 95,563 square kilometers of maritime territory in dispute while Mauritius gained 45,331 square kilometers. PPM-PNC coalition, which had been the opposition back then, had accused the outgoing administration of “selling” part of Maldivian maritime territory, claiming the whole 95,563 square kilometers to belong to the Maldives.

Appealing the ITLOS ruling is an electoral pledge of Muizzu and is among the main two things he pressed during his presidential campaign alongside the removal of foreign soldiers from Maldivian soil.

In line with the pledges, Muizzu has announced appealing ITLOS ruling as part of his administration’s first 100-day plan, alongside the removal of Indian soldiers based in the Maldives.

The dispute between Maldives and Mauritius arises from Mauritius' request to lay measurements from Blenheim Reef which is visible during low tides.

Maldives argued that the Blenheim Reef did not fall within the maritime borders of Mauritius.

With ITLOS’ decision, Maldives gained 4,687 square kilometers of maritime area. Mauritius would have gained the area if they won.

Chagos is an archipelago located south of Addu City, closer to Maldivian borders than Mauritian. The area is presently under the control of the British. While the region is not inhabited – it is used by the British for economic purposes.

For decades, Mauritius and the United Kingdom have been in a dispute over ownership of the Chagos, after Mauritius claimed the Chagos archipelago as Mauritian territory when the nation gained independence from the British in 1968.

UK, which had severed the Chagos Islands from Mauritius before independence, claiming it to be a part of British-Indian Ocean Territory in the Indian Ocean, had forcibly deported thousands of inhabitants of Diego Garcia, the largest of the 60 small islands in the archipelago, so that they could lease the island to the United States for a military base.

Mauritius sought to reclaim Chagos from the British after their independence.

Maldives is involved in this dispute as the country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) overlaps with that Chagos.

In 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an advisory opinion reiterating Mauritius' sovereignty over Chagos. 

The same year, UN General Assembly adopted a resolution based on ICJ's recommendations instructing the UK to hand over Chagos to Mauritius within six months. However, the UK refused to comply.

Mauritius went to ITLOS based on the advisory opinion to delimitate the Maldivian maritime territory.

ITLOS concluded that it is not in a position to determine the entitlement of Mauritius to the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the Northern Chagos Archipelago Region and decided subsequently it will not proceed to delimit the continental shelf between Mauritius and the Maldives beyond 200 nautical miles.

While Maldives has accepted Mauritius’ sovereignty claim over Chagos islands, as informed to Mauritius' Prime Minister via a letter by the Maldivian President, the nation did not change its stand on the maritime border dispute with Mauritius regarding the conflicting EEZ.