In maritime boundary delimitation, whenever a delimitation line other than an equidistance line crosses the 200-nautical mile limit of one State and continues to reach the 200-nautical mile limit of another State, a small-wedge-shaped area is formed. This area is commonly referred to as a “grey area” due to the uncertainty of its legal status. In the Dispute concerning Delimitation of Maritime Boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal (2012), the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (itlos) has clarified several issues related to the grey area for the first time in international adjudication. First, it pointed out that the boundary abutting the grey area is a boundary delimiting the continental shelves of the two Parties, since in this area only their continental shelves overlap. Second, by characterizing the problem of grey area as one arising as a consequence of delimitation that must be effected to achieve an equitable solution, the Tribunal made it clear that this problem cannot be a reason for adhering to an equidistance line. Third, the Tribunal clarified the legal status of the grey area: Bangladesh has continental shelf rights over the seabed and subsoil and Myanmar the eez rights, notably with respect to the superjacent waters. Thus there is an overlay of Bangladesh’s continental shelf rights and Myanmar’s eez rights in the grey area. Fourth, in the view of the Tribunal, any practical or other difficulties that may arise from the overlap of rights can be resolved in accordance with the principle reflected in the relevant articles in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, including the principle of due regard. In this regard, the Parties may conclude specific agreements or establish appropriate cooperative arrangements. This approach of the Tribunal has subsequently been followed by the Annex vii Arbitral Tribunal in the Bay of Bengal Maritime Boundary Arbitration between Bangladesh and India (2014). With the pronouncements of the itlos and the Arbitral Tribunal in the two Bay of Bengal cases, it is hoped that the so-called grey area has now become less grey and that the parties to delimitation will be able to agree on cooperative arrangements in the area more easily.
In many cultures, the age of twenty years passes for a symbol of adulthood. In 2016, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (hereinafter the “Tribunal”) celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its founding. Thus one may say that the Tribunal has now come of age. It seems opportune on this auspicious occasion to reflect on and assess the works of the Tribunal as a judicial institution and look ahead at its future. The Tribunal makes contribution to the rule of law in two ways; first, by settling disputes peacefully, and second, by clarifying and developing international law. The two functions are closely interrelated. This paper will briefly address each of these functions of the Tribunal.