An amazing coincidence: earthquake strikes during discussion of disputed maritime boundary

Bathymetry map of Vanuatu and surrounding area. Map: NASA

Bathymetry map of Vanuatu and surrounding area. The line to the west of Vanuatu is where the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates meet. Map: NASA

It can only be considered as quite a wonderful coincidence. However, on Friday, as USP staff, students and friends were discussing the relevance of the South China Sea arbitration in favour of the Philippines against China, to Vanuatu’s claimed territory the Matthew and Hunter islands in Tafea, precisely at 12.26 pm came the Richter scale 7.6 earthquake just off Hunter Island, as reported here on Friday. A preliminary tsunami warning was issued but cancelled when the ‘quake was downgraded to 7.2. There were a number of aftershocks.

Both the maritime claims of the Philippines and that of Vanuatu to “islands” in their neighbourhoods are covered by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The history of each case is long and complicated. The complications begin with attempts to establish whether the “land” in question really is an island able to support human existence thereon, or a rock. Daily Post carries a report on the USP discussion today. The Philippines/China dispute does have a relevance to the claim of Vanuatu and France, and UNCLOS will need to consider whether Vanuatu being on the Pacific Plate like Matthew and Hunter, and New Caledonia being on the Australian Plate, makes for a further geological complication. Certainly the geology of Matthew/Hunter used to support lengthy fishing trips for the Aneityumese, as did the underwater volcanoes between them and Aneityum, all rocks or islands performing what artificial fish aggregating devices achieve today. Academics Lee-Anne Sackett, Dr Lili Song and Dr Morsen Mosses animated a particularly interesting discussion in the USP Emalus Conference Room last Friday.

A decision is expected in the Conspiracy case next week. The fortnight long trial effectively ended yesterday with four prosecutions witnesses recalled with reference to their having been counsel for the defendants. They are Erick Molbaleh, Robin Kapapa, Colin Leo and Gregory Takau. New evidence had Takau stating that he was never part of a group advising Pipite in the pardons matter. (Daily Post)

Climate change has been a “key focus” for the Pacific island country Foreign Ministers, Radio Vanuatu reports. Their meeting has been taking place in Fiji. Regional cooperation and disaster risk management have also been important agenda items. Implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals was said to be important for taking further the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The discussions were preparatory to the Leaders’ meeting to take place in the Federated States of Micronesia next month. (Radio Vanuatu)

The Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat’s Program Manager Trade and Investment, John Licht, has engaged the services of a consultant to look at improving shipping between the MSG countries and the possibility of establishing an intra-MSG shipping service. A study will be produced in the coming weeks for fine tuning by key stakeholders from the shipping industry for a final draft. A free trade agreement is also on the cards. (Daily Post)

The Vanuatu Financial Services Commission is warning against an “official partner”, Vanuatulicense.com, promising investors access to VFSC licences and other services. The company runs a website in the Russian language, which appears to currently be non-operational. (Daily Post)