The Situation at Mouchoir Bank

February 28, 2019
Kevin Danaher

In the Caribbean, there is a little-known area of contention between the United Kingdom and Dominican Republic, and it hinges primarily on a single seamount called Mouchoir Bank. This post goes over the recent history of this section of the Caribbean, and the events that have brought us to the current, questionable status of Mouchoir Bank.

A Brief History

On 2 August 1996, the Dominican Republic and United Kingdom signed an agreement delimiting the maritime space between the British Overseas Territory of Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic. The maritime boundary they established followed a path of simplified equidistance between mainland Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos Islands. Based on the course of the boundary defined in this agreement, several seamounts were divided between either State’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). These are Mouchoir Bank, which fell on the Turks and Caicos side of the boundary, and Silver and Navidad Banks on the Dominican Republic side. To date, however, the Agreement has not been ratified by either party and is therefore not in force.

On 22 May 2007, the Dominican Republic released Act 66-07, which repealed and replaced all prior legislation regarding declarations on maritime space (Act Nos. 186 and 573). Most notably, Act 66-07 declared Dominican Republic’s archipelagic status, defined turning points for an archipelagic baseline, declared internal waters and historic bay closings, and listed 498 coordinates defining the outer limits of an EEZ. The archipelagic baseline and EEZ defined in Act 66-07 overlapped and extended beyond the 1996 boundary Agreement with the United Kingdom.

The unratified maritime boundary Agreement between the Dominican Republic and the United Kingdom is shown above, along with an equidistance scenario utilizing Dominican Republic’s claimed base points to the north and a strict equidistance scenario to the south. At this point in time, the Dominican Republic has not settled any maritime boundaries with Haiti or its neighbors to the north or east.

Five months later, the United Kingdom and the United States submitted a joint demarche to the United Nations opposing the Dominican Republic’s legislation. Specifically, the two governments did not accept the Dominican Republic’s claim of archipelagic status, nor the legitimacy of the turning points defining their archipelagic baselines. Further, both States rejected the EEZ, internal waters and historic bay closings defined in Act 66-07.

Mouchoir Bank

Although not stated directly by the parties involved, in contention is the furthest west of the seamounts on which the Dominican Republic lays claim, Mouchoir Bank. In Article 8 of Act 66-07, Dominican Republic places several base points along the feature for defining their archipelagic baseline. Additionally, Mouchoir Bank is west of the 1996 maritime boundary agreed between United Kingdom and Dominican Republic, which placed it in Turks and Caicos’ EEZ. Although that maritime boundary agreement has not been ratified, it is clear that there is a discrepancy over the status and sovereignty of the feature, especially given the United Kingdom’s dissent to the claims of Dominican Republic’s Act 66-07, as expressed in their communication to the United Nations on October 18, 2007.

Sentinel imagery shows the shape of the seamount, as well as several features breaking water. The archipelagic baseline claimed by Dominican Republic is shown, as well as several points that form the baseline. Plotted as provided in Act 66-07, these archipelagic base point coordinates do not appear very accurate at large scale. However, the legislation does note that the plotting “shall be adjusted to the corresponding values subject to in situ verification by the Dominican State.” Archipelagic base points 4 through 6 are intended to be connected following the low-tide elevation of Mouchoir Bank.

Upon review of satellite imagery, it appears that there is at least one feature of the Bank consistently above water, however it is unclear whether any other parts of the Bank are above water at low tide, as the Dominican Republic would suggest in their construction of the archipelagic baseline using base points 4 through 6, continuing “… at low tide to the following point” along the bank.

Dominican Republic’s Maritime Claims

Dominican Republic’s Act 66-07 of 22 May 2007 defined the outer limit of an EEZ as well as turning points for an archipelagic baseline encompassing Mouchoir, Silver and Navidad Banks. Of note, the outer limit is 200 M from their claimed archipelagic baseline, and gives full weight to Navidad Bank in an equidistance boundary with Puerto Rico (Isla de Mona and Isla Monito are ignored in this equidistance calculation, but a 12 M limit from these Puerto Rican features is respected).

Claims set forth in Act 66-07 are shown above, including the extent of the Dominican Republic EEZ claim, archipelagic waters, and historic bays.

Equidistance Scenarios

Taking away past agreements and legislation instated by Dominican Republic or United Kingdom, we can assess how various scenarios could play out using natural features and the configuration of the states’ coastlines.

Below are two equidistance scenarios, illustrating how the path of a boundary could change should the seamounts be ignored or counted.

Allowing Mouchoir Bank full weight versus no weight in a strict equidistance calculation

Current Status

Since the Dominican Republic’s legislation and the United States’ and United Kingdom’s joint demarche in 2007, there has been little communication or clarification made public regarding the status of maritime space in the area.

Comments made in March 2018 by Chris Campbell, British ambassador to the Dominican Republic, implied the United Kingdom was awaiting clarification on the archipelagic status claimed by Dominican Republic, also acknowledging that these claims could lead to a territorial dispute.

So at this point the situation at Mouchoir Bank remains stagnant. The 1996 maritime boundary between Dominican Republic and United Kingdom (Turks and Caicos) continues to await (unlikely) ratification by either State, and at the time of this writing we have not heard of any clarifications or relevant communications between the parties involved regarding this maritime space.

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