On Thursday, Libya’s Government of National Unity (GNU), officially declared a 24-nautical mile contiguous zone, extending beyond its 12 nautical mile territorial sea, as ratified by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This strategic declaration, led by Prime Minister Abdel-Hamid Dbaiba, signifies Libya’s intent to enhance its maritime sovereignty in the Mediterranean.
This move is partly a response to the demarcation of Egypt’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and a recalibration of maritime boundaries in light of the 2019 Turkey-Libya Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which has been a subject of contention among eastern Mediterranean states. The MoU attempted to set a maritime boundary between Turkey and Libya, a move not recognised by other regional powers such as Greece and Egypt.
Libya’s extension of maritime boundaries to the Egyptian border is anticipated to trigger a diplomatic response from Cairo, particularly addressed to the UN’s Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, which is currently assessing Libya’s decision.
For Greece, the implications of Libya’s expanded maritime zone are nuanced, considering the existing geopolitical tensions over maritime rights in the Mediterranean. The Gulf of Sidra, a key point on Libya’s coast, serves as a baseline for the newly declared zones, which will have a bearing on Greece’s interests, especially regarding the waters south of Crete, adjacent to eastern Libya.
Greece itself extended its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles in the Ionian sea, and around the Ionian Islands to Cape Tainaro three years ago. However, this did not involve a contiguous zone expansion, and did not substantially include the waters around Crete.
Libya’s declaration is a significant development in the complex maritime boundary landscape of the eastern Mediterranean, where energy resources and regional influence are at stake. As countries like Libya assert their maritime claims, the potential for resource exploration grows, bringing both opportunities and challenges for economic development and international relations.
The announcement highlights the delicate balance of power, and the intricate dance of diplomacy and sovereignty in the Mediterranean. It underscores the need for cooperative mechanisms to manage disputes, and the importance of adherence to international law to ensure regional stability and security. As the situation evolves, the actions of Libya and its neighbours will be closely watched by the international community.