The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Lapo Pistelli, on the third-party effects of a bilateral treaty establishing an Exclusive Economic Zone


On 18 January 2015, two Italian trawlers (the Jonathan of Siracusa and the Albachiara of Cagliari) were arrested by the Egyptian coast guard about 36 nautical miles far from the coast of Egypt. The timely intervention of the Italian Government brought to the release of both the two vessels and their crews (except the catch) before a full day had passed since the incident. One month later, Mr Lapo Pistelli, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, intervened in the Senate and, commenting upon these facts, made a statement that might be read as implicitly accepting the third-party effects of a bilateral treaty aimed at delimiting two Exclusive Economic Zones in a highly contested area. In the words of the Deputy Minister:

As far as the legal questions are concerned […] it must, first of all, be clarified that the arrest of the two fishing vessels occurred due to their unauthorized fishing activity in a portion of the sea that the Arab Republic of Egypt claims to be its Exclusive Economic Zone, on which it has its own functional jurisdiction as to the exploitation of fish resources in conformity with the Convention on the Law of the Sea signed in 1982 in Montego Bay (UNCLOS). In this regard, it must be remarked that the Arab Republic of Egypt has never formally established its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by means of domestic legislation, which is, on the contrary, the usual procedure. This notwithstanding, on 17 February 2003 Egypt concluded an international agreement with Cyprus delimiting their respective Exclusive Economic Zones. From this agreement, one can infer the willingness of Egypt to establish a sea zone subject to its own functional jurisdiction in fishing matters. On the basis of what is provided by UNCLOS, which broadly overlaps with international customary law, the coastal state may also subject fishing activities to its own laws and control, and thus seize foreign vessels carrying on unauthorized activities. At the same time, UNCLOS includes detailed provisions on the release of seized vessels.

He then recalled that:

As to the […] possibility of concluding agreements granting fishing rights, […] this subject matter falls within the exclusive competence of the European Union: this means, therefore, that member States may not autonomously negotiate bilateral agreements.

The full text of the statement (in Italian) can be downloaded here.

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