Territorial Waters Oil & Gas: A strong voice needed to highlight issue in parliament

KOTA KINABALU, May 5, 2018: The Sabah government must compel the national oil company Petronas to get its approval to continue operating in its territorial waters off the state, economist Zainnal Ajamain said.

He said Sabah, like Sarawak has asserted their rights in the resource-rich territorial waters in the South China Sea by rejecting the Territorial Seas Act 2012 (Act 750).

Zainnal said Sarawak has ordered Petronas to apply for its Mineral Exploration Licence as an implicit way to impose its ownership of the state’s territorial waters.

“This is what the Sabah government should do as the first step in regaining control of the petroleum and gas rich area within the continental shelf,” he said at the Progressive Institute of Public Policy Analysis (Pippa) media conference here on Friday.

Among those present was Pippa chairman Amde Sidek and Sabah Progressive Party president Datuk Yong Teck Lee.

(The continental shelf is an underwater landmass which extends from the mainland, resulting in an area of relatively shallow water known as a shelf sea.

(According to international law, the continental shelf area was 350 miles from the baseline - the middle area between the high and low tides - right to the South China Sea).

Zainnal said Britain, that had established colonial administration in Sabah and Sarawak, had in 1954 specified that the territories of Sabah were included the continental shelf.

However, the Federal government had assumed control of Sabah’s territorial waters through Ordinance 7 in 1969 that were part of a series of Emergency Ordinances introduced that year.

In 2011, the Federal government rescinded the Emergency Ordinances that resulting in the Ordinance 7 “collapsing” as well.

A year later, Parliament passed the Territorial Seas Act 2015 (Act 750) without the consent of the Sabah and Sarawak State Assemblies.

Recently  Sabah had joined Sarawak in rejecting Act 750.

Special Tasks Minister Datuk Seri Teo Chee Kang had said two weeks ago that by virtue of Article 2 of the Federal Constitution in which it was stated that any law altering the boundaries of a state can only be passed with the consent of the state (expressed by a law made by the Legislature of the State) and of the Conference of Rulers.

Since there was no prior consent of the State expressed by an enactment passed in the Sabah State Assembly the Territorial Seas Act 2012 (Act 750) cannot be applicable to the state, said Teo a lawyer and chairman of the Sabah Rights Review Committee.

He said Sabah’s Territorial Water boundaries were thus defined by the pre-Malaysia law that included the continental shelf.

Teo said Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg had rightfully asserted territorial control over the state’s continental shelf.

Zainnal said that Sabah and Sarawak were re-exerting their authority of their territorial waters by rejecting the Act 750.

He said the Federal government had assumed ownership of Sabah and Sarawak’s continental shelf through Act 750.

“With that assumption of ownership, the Federal government handed over the ownership and exploitation of the petroleum resources of the area to Petronas via the Petroleum Development Act 1974,” Zainnal said.

“With Sabah and Sarawak saying they are rejecting Act 750, the Federal government has nothing to give to Petronas,” he said.

“The legal maxim for this is nemodat quad non habit, that is, you cannot give what you don’t have,” Zainnal added.

He said Sabah needed a strong voice in Parliament to highlight this matter on a national scale and pointed to Yong who is contesting the Kota Kinabalu Parliamentary seat.

Yong said Malaya-based parties whether Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Harapan would not want to highlight the fact that Sabah and Sarawak were asserting their authority over their resource rich territorial waters.

“Our resources in Sabah’s territorial waters are being used to leverage China’s investments in various mega projects in Malaya,” he said,

Yong said Sabah stood to gain much from China’s One Belt One Road initiative but the state had to regain control of all resources.

He noted that China tacitly recognised Sabah’s ownership of its territorial waters and it built one of its South China Sea outpost on the Fiery Cross Reef that was 350 miles from the Sabah baseline.

Yong said he would continue to press the Federal government to acknowledge Sabah’s ownership of its territorial waters.

“I hope I will be given the opportunity to keep pressing the Prime Minister and government to respect the Malaysia Agreement 1963,” he said.