It could take up to 3-years to settle the Ghana-Cote DÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Ivoire maritime border dispute that has existed for a long time.
Ghana is presently taking legal action to resolve the border dispute under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea after 10 bilateral meetings failed to resolve the issue.
The two countries have never officially agreed on the boundary and their maps of territorial waters overlap. Ghana filed its suit based on Article 287 Annex VII of the 1982 UNCLOS.
Although the maritime boundary dispute between Ghana and CÃƒÂ´te dÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Ivoire has existed for a long time, it was reignited around 2010 -- the year Ghana started commercial production of oil.
In 2011, the Ivorian authorities -- at the time still under the leadership of former president Laurent Gbagbo -- published a map with a new order, claiming portions of Ghanaian oil blocks.
Seismic data from the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), the regulator of the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s upstream petroleum sector, show that the disputed area covers portions of the Jubilee Field, Tweneboa, Enyenra, the Owo discoveries, West Tano-1X find and the deep-water Tano block, all found on the west coast of GhanaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s territorial waters.
GNPC has already allocated some of those blocks to oil companies, including Tullow and Kosmos, to explore and develop for commercial oil production.
Both countries are claiming ownership of the territory, which energy experts say holds an estimated two billion barrels of oil reserves and 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
According to officials of the GNPC, the claims of ownership of some the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s oil fields by neighbouring Cote dÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Ivoire do not have merit and will not disturb the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s oil production in any way.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I don't think we will lose. We are extremely confident about this case,Ã¢â‚¬Â Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, Attoney General, told a news conference in Accra.
The decision follows failed negotiations between the two countries in the past few years, as well as continued receipt of threatening letters from Cote dÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Ivoire by oil companies operating in the disputed area.
In order to avoid a diplomatic spat, Ghana has since served Cote dÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Ivoire with a notification of arbitration in accordance with the provisions of UNCLOS.
Nevertheless, both countries have enjoyed cordial relations for a long time and are keen to solve the matter peacefully.
National Coordinator of the Ghana Maritime Boundary Secretariat Kwame Fordjour Mfodwo, said the three-year legal proceedings at the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea will cost the country Ã¢â‚¬Å“a few million dollars. It will be reasonably expensive,Ã¢â‚¬Â he stated.
The expenses that will be involved in the arbitration will be a minute fraction of the commercial benefits Ghana stands to gain from exploitation of oil within the area under litigation, he said.
A 30-member team of professionals will be in charge of the litigation, led by Justice Appiah-Oppong with other international maritime lawyers including Professor Philippe Sands QC and Martin Tsamenyi as part of the team.
Mr. Mfodwo disclosed that a group of cartographers will also be hired to draw the maritime boundaries.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“GhanaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team is made up of the best Anglophone litigants on maritime issues.
They have won cases for Bangladesh and Peru and some were part of the ARA Libertad case involving Ghana and Argentina.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Jubilee Field is safe from the litigation; it is the newly-discovered TEN Fields that are within the area under dispute,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mr. Mfodwo remarked.
Possibly, the country could establish an extra eight billion barrels of petroleum reserves if it succeeds in getting its maritime boundaries extended.
Ghana seeks the extension of its continental shelf to about 15,000 kilometers beyond 200 nautical miles, where preliminary studies have shown the potential for at least eight billion barrels of petroleum reserves. Ghana is among 50 countries globally that have sought an expansion of their territorial waters.
In a statement, Ivory Coast said the dispute over the border area will not in any way undermine relations between the two countries, their people and the two presidents.
By Ekow Essabra-Mensah | B&FT Online | Ghana