Jacques Hartmann is Lecturer in Law, Dundee Law School, Scotland.
On 28 November last year Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark announced that they had reached a tentative agreement on the maritime boundary in the Lincoln Sea. The Lincoln Sea is a body of water bordering the Arctic Ocean, north of Canada’s Ellesmere Island and Greenland, which, together with the Faeroe Islands, is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. The Canadian/Danish agreement partly settles long-standing uncertainty over the northern boundary between the two countries, but it does not settle the dispute over Hans Island which is situated right in the middle of a potentially important sea route to the Arctic Ocean.
Most of the boundary between Canada and Greenland was established by a delimitation treaty in 1973. The treaty delimited the continental shelf, covering:
‘…[The] area between Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Islands… for the purpose of each Party’s exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of that part of the continental shelf…’
Although that treaty officially concerned the continental shelf, both Canada and Denmark have used the delimitation line to define fishing zones. Thus by usage it is had become a maritime boundary.
The 1973 delimitation treaty lists 127 points from the Davis Strait in the south to the Nares Strait (also know as Robson Channel) in the north, the narrow strait of water between the northernmost part of Ellesmere Island and Greenland. That treaty established a boundary of nearly 1,500 nautical miles. At the time, it was the longest shelf boundary ever negotiated. The new agreement extends the boundary to more than 1,600 nautical miles.