UN approves Philippine territorial claim to Benham Rise

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The United Nations has approved the Philippines' territorial claim to Benham Rise, an undersea landmass in the Pacific Ocean potentially rich in mineral and natural gas deposits, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said.

"We own Benham Rise now," Paje said in a media interview. "This is for future Filipinos," he added, noting that the 13-million-hectare area off the coast of Aurora province has been shown to have rich mineral deposits.

Paje said the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) sent the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) a letter last week informing the agency that the landmass is part of the country's continental shelf and territory.

Benham Rise, a seismically active region facing Luzon's eastern seaboard, is rising slowly to the surface of the Pacific Ocean, Paje said. Perhaps, in a million years-a blink in the planet's geological time-it will be habitable, he said.

Larger than Luzon

The plateau is a massive formation of basalt, a common volcanic rock, and is within coordinates 119°30'E to 132°00'E and 12°10'N to 20°30'N latitude.

Paje said Benham Rise, named after an American surveyor, is larger in area than Luzon. It has been shown to have natural gas deposits and manganese nodules, vital in the production of steel, he added.

Despite Benham's proximity to the Philippines and its location within the country's exclusive economic zone, the government did not claim it until 2008. Then, the next year, the government submitted a formal claim to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The Philippine submission noted that the country reserves the right to submit further claims in the area.

The Philippines is the sole claimant of Benham Rise. The country is currently embroiled in territorial disputes over several islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

China and the Philippines are feuding over Panatag (Scarbourough) Shoal, 220 kilometres (124 nautical miles) west of Zambales province.

The Philippines and some of its Southeast Asian neighbours are also disputing with China and Taiwan ownership of parts of Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.

The Spratlys are believed to be sitting on vast deposits of minerals and natural gas, in an area spanned by sea lanes vital to global trade.

In the Know

Benham Rise is a 13-million-hectare undersea region that lies east of Luzon and off the provinces of Isabela and Aurora.

Also known as Benham Plateau, it is a massive formation of basalt, a common volcanic rock, and is described in a study as a thickened portion of the Philippine sea plate's oceanic crust.

The formation lies within the continental shelf of the Philippines as defined by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), under which a coastal state's exclusive economic zone extends 370 kilometres (200 nautical miles) from its continental shelf, while its extended continental shelf extends for another 278 km (150 nautical miles).

Benham Rise is not subject to any maritime boundary disputes and claims.

Studies conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have indicated large deposits of methane in solid form in the area.

In August last year, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje announced that the Philippines will gain additional territory should the United Nations approve the country's claim to Benham, which the country submitted to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in New York on April 8, 2009.

According to Paje, an American geologist, Andrew Benham, discovered the area, which was between 40 meters and 2,000 meters below the waterline, in 1933. Paje said gas deposits in the area would enable the country to achieve energy sufficiency.

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