Russia Mulls Potentially Oil-Rich Arctic Seabed

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Moscow ( - A Russian research vessel has begun a 90-day voyage to the Arctic as Moscow continues to pursue claims to the potentially energy-rich seabed under the Arctic Ocean.

Led by a nuclear-powered icebreaker, the "Akademik Fyodorov" ship is carrying 85 researchers headed by Artur Chilingarov, the deputy speaker of the State Duma - the lower house of the Russian parliament - and head of the Russian Polar Explorers' Association.

The mission plans to deploy mini-submarines that will submerge to a depth of more than four kilometers near the North Pole.

Russia has made no secret of economic considerations behind the mission. The expedition's scientific supervisor, Vladimir Sokolov, told journalists in St. Petersburg that the Russian subsoil resources governmental agency, Rosnedra, has allocated 130 million rubles ($5 million) to finance the mission.

A similar mission returned to Russia on June 24, having reportedly discovered a link between a major underwater ridge and Russia's coastal shelf. The scientists, who measured hundreds of square miles of seabed, claimed that the undersea Lomonosov Ridge running across the North Pole was an extension of the Eurasian continent.

As a result, Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute announced that Russia could lay claim to more than one million square kilometres of territory under the Arctic Ocean. Experts believe the area could contain up to 10 billion tons of hydrocarbons, as well as diamonds and metal ore.

Under international law, notably the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country can claim exclusive economic rights within 200 miles of its territory. If a country can prove that its continental shelf extends beyond that zone, it can claim similar rights over a larger area.

Russia first presented its claim to seabed under the Arctic Ocean, as well as under the Bering and Okhotsk Seas, to the United Nations in 2001. However, four other polar countries, the United States, Denmark, Canada and Norway, objected to the Russian claims.

Russia has yet to announce any new formal claims based on the recent expedition and its reported findings.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement this week that the delineation of the Arctic shelf remained an "issue for the future."

Russia would need to present further justification to the UN Commission on the Convention on the Law of the Sea in order to back up its claim to seabed under the Arctic Ocean, it said.

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