By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the
On the occasion of the third summit of the Caspian
States in Baku, December 2010
Caspian Sea is dying and its littoral states
(Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan) are not able to decide
who owns what and what their responsibilities to the Caspian Sea, towards each
other and the non-littoral states are. The main problem is that the newly
independent countries (this includes Russia which is not the USSR) around the
Caspian Sea are not ready to give an equitable share of the Caspian Sea to Iran.
On the other side, Iran as a country run by the
regime of the Islamic Republic is in no position to force the other states,
legally or actually, to accept giving Iran an equal or fair share (as Iran
demands). Therefore, Iran has turned into the biggest obstacle for the general
accord of the Caspian littoral states about the legal regime of the Caspian Sea.
This may be precisely in line with the national interests of Iran, that as long
as Iran has a regime that is not able to satisfy its people's demands in the
Caspian Sea, for Iran to stay away from any agreement to finalize the legal
regime of the Caspian Sea.
At the same time, Iran has many sources of oil and
gas in its other parts that can be exploited with less difficulty and lower
technology and less investment as compared to exploiting its deep coastal areas
in the Caspian which is the deepest part of the Caspian Sea.
But the other countries are not waiting for
finalization of the Caspian legal regime. The cash-hungry newly independent
countries around the Caspian sea, are plundering, draining, drilling, dumping
wastes, extracting any valuable sources, and pushing some of them like sturgeon
fish ( the source of Caspian Caviar), to the brink of extinction. The public
and private sectors of these countries, under the ruling dictatorial regimes
that are in hurry to fill up their pockets and those of their friends and
families don't care about environmental issues and the future of the Caspian
On these conditions, the Caspian Littoral states
have held countless meetings in various levels and two summits (Ashgabat in 2002
and Tehran, October 2007) to solve their problems and they have failed. A third
summit is going to be held in Baku in December 2010 and it is expected to get
The littoral states are in no better shape as
compared to those two previous summits. Islamic Republic of Iran is suffering
from bad international relations and UN sanctions. Russians, having gained some
points in the previous summit in Tehran ( through Iran's silence to the
suggestions of the Russians for dividing the Caspian Seabed on the basis of the
shorelines and leaving the surface for common shipping), are now getting
frustrated by Iran's insistence on its positions in the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan
has close relations with the US, NATO and Israel and it is probably going to
give a base to the Americans (to replace the Injirlik base in Turkey), is said
to be one of the possible ways of the Western or Israeli attack against the I.R.
of Iran. Kazakhstan is patiently exploiting the oil and gas resources in its own
region and does not care about others issues especially in the southern Caspian
Sea. Turkmenistan is still in the process of getting out of the shock of the
previous dictator and it is looking to the east, especially due to the plans for
the new pipeline of Turkmentian-Afghaniatan-Pakistan-India which is the rival of
Iran-Pakistan -India pipeline (peace pipeline).
Although the Caspian littoral states managed to sign
the convention to protect the Caspian Sea environment in Tehran in November
2003, no real and fundamental action is taken by any of the signatories to
implement it. This is a testimony to the fact that until the problem of the
legal regime of the Caspian Sea in general is settled, the conclusion of such
accord to bypass that problem would not work.
The Caspian Sea is in serious environmental danger.
Iran has a small share from polluting point of view, but it gets a much
extensive part of pollution created by other countries because of the sea
currents in the Caspian Sea. Russians are the greatest polluters. They create
80% of the Caspian pollution. After that, Azerbaijan is producing some of the
worst kinds of pollutions because of their outdated oil refineries and other oil
installations in the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan come after
Azerbaijan in terms of producing pollution.
According to the report of the Energy Information
Administration in 2000: "Untreated waste from the Volga River, into which half
the population of Russia - and most of its heavy industry - drains its sewage,
empties directly into the Caspian Sea. Oil extraction and refining complexes in
Baku and Sumgayit in Azerbaijan are major sources of land-based pollution, and
offshore oil fields, refineries, and petrochemical plants have generated large
quantities of toxic waste, run-off, and oil spills. In addition, radioactive
solid and liquid waste deposits near the Gurevskaya nuclear power plant in
Kazakhstan are polluting the Caspian as well... The impact on human health has
been immeasurable, and the Caspian's sturgeon catch has decreased dramatically
in recent years, from 30,000 tons in 1985 to 13,300 tons in 1990 and then to as
low as 2,100 tons in 1994". (1)
Local and international environmental groups point
out that the Caspian's ecosystem has already suffered decades of abuse from the
Soviets, and is fragile and in need of recovery; not additional stress.
"Decades of lax environmental controls have dumped dangerous toxins into the
Volga River, the main source of the Caspian and into the sea itself. Scientists
estimate that each year an average of 60,000 metric tons of petroleum
byproducts, 24,000 tons of sulfites, 400,000 tons of chlorine and 25,000 tons of
chlorine are dumped into the sea. Concentrations of oil and phenols in the
northern sea are four to six times higher than the maximum recommended
standards. Around Baku, where oil drilling and industrialization have been
happening for almost a century, these pollutants are ten to sixteen times
The Caspian sturgeon and the
Caspian seal, one of two freshwater species in the world, have been dying in
large numbers as a result of polluters or poachers, who have operated with
impunity since the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
"The sturgeon will
be commercially extinct in two to three years," says a World Bank official. (3)
According to a report by AP, dated 21 June 2000,
thousands of seals have died in Caspian Sea (4): "Thousands of dead
seals have been found along Kazakhstan's Caspian Sea coast, in an outbreak that
officials blame on unusually warm weather. But environmental experts say is
connected to oil pollution. Workers have collected and destroyed the bodies of
11,000 dead seals, Galina Yeroshenkova, an Emergency Situations Agency official,
said." Problems of Caspian Sea's pollution can be divided into three types:
Chemical pollution by the running
Ecological problems, connected to the
rise of the level of water.
Offshore oil industry.
Caspian Sea from space (NASA, 2003) -- see
The offshore oil industry in Azerbaijan sector of
Caspian Sea has developed since 1949. On platforms "Neft dashlari" and "28
April" heavily developed productions and transportation of oil. At this time
sulfuric oil for processing in refiners was transported to Baku from the
Kazakhstan coast by tankers. As a result of oil flood during its production and
transportation the level of sea pollution by oil exceeds allowable norm in some
sites up to 20 times. Among the most polluted sites of Caspian Sea by oil are:
Baku bay, Apsheron archipelago, Islands, Turkmenbashi, Cheleken, Mangishlak,
Tengiz and other sites of oil industry. (5)
Nuclear pollution is one of the less known and
rarely discussed dimensions of the serious pollution problems in the Caspian
Sea. At the same time, the radioactive contamination is one of the most
damaging and dangerous types of pollution in the world. The nuclear activities
of the coastal states, implications of the former nuclear explosions, the
remnants of the nuclear tests, the nuclear wastes (which will be radioactive for
thousands of years) and finally the nuclear side of oil exploration and
exploitation and transportation (especially by pipelines) are the sources of
nuclear danger in the Caspian Sea. The nuclear pollution is not in the same
level all over the Caspian Sea. It is different from the viewpoints of sources
and types of dangers. But if we take into consideration that the Caspian Sea,
as the greatest lake in the world, is not connected through natural channels to
the high seas, and at the same time, a strange wind current (there are other
strange characteristics in the Caspian Sea like its rising and falling levels
that is still subject to controversy) keeps steering the water inside the lake
like a giant spoon, then the general dangers of the nuclear pollution for all
coastal states, even those who have smallest role in the nuclear contamination
of the Caspian Sea become more evident. (6)
An encouraging sign has been a move towards greater
cooperation in protecting the Caspian. Several initiatives have boosted
regional cooperation in protecting the environment, including the establishment
of the Caspian Environment Programme (CEP) in conjunction with the Global
Environmental Facility. The overall goal of the CEP is defined as
"environmentally sustainable development and management of the Caspian
environment, including living resources and water quality, so as to obtain the
utmost long-term benefits for the human populations of the region, while
protecting human health, ecological integrity, and the region's sustainability
for future generations." (7)
I believe that the most important factor in
endangerment of environment in the Caspian Sea is oil pollution and all other
pollutions that come with it. Exploration and exploitation of oil and gas
resources in the Caspian Sea is the main activity of the future all around the
"All five nations
now operate tankers on the Caspian that pollute by discharging bilge water and
sloppy loading techniques. The largest tanker trader is the Caspian Shipping Co.
of the Azerbaijani Republic, or CASPAR. But other states are developing tanker
capabilities, most notably Kazakhstan's Kazmortransflot, which in August 2005
launched its first tanker, the $18.75 million Astana. In 2001 Turkmenistan
received its first 5,000-ton tanker, built in Turkey, for transiting oil through
its Caspian ports of Turkmenbashi, Alaja and Ekerem.....In
February 2010, Kazakhstan's Transportation Minister announced that over the next
five years it intends to spend more than $860 million to develop its merchant
marine, ports and infrastructure and that "by 2012 the merchant fleet will
consists of 20 tankers and five dry cargo ships as well as 150 service ships,"
while Azeri Energy Minister Natiq Aliyev announced Azerbaijan plans to double
its oil output, reaching 65 million tons annually by 2010. Given that more than
80 percent of Azerbaijan's oil is produced from offshore Caspian fields, the
environmental implications are ominous. Even Russia, the Commonwealth of
Independent States' oil superpower, is expanding its maritime activities. Last
November Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting devoted to shipbuilding
industry issues that his administration prioritized the construction of oil
platforms and tankers."
Therefore, special attention to the oil pollution
is necessary. Happily, the body of laws and regulations concerning the oil
pollutions is very advanced in the international law. The littoral countries
have to agree to apply most of those laws and regulations to the environment in
the Caspian Sea. The most important instrument of the international law in this
case is the 1973 London Convention (MARPOL) or the International Convention for
the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Generally the oil pollutions are the
result of two main factors: The operational or deliberate factors, and
accidental or un-deliberate factors.
In the field of operational factors the "ballast
water" has a special position. This is the water taken on by all kinds of
ships, especially oil tankers when they are not carrying oil cargoes, to keep
them operating smoothly. Naturally they throw the water, which is contaminated
when they want to reload. This causes a considerable amount of pollution. 1973
Convention has very important articles for these cases.
The other documents that should be taken into
Convention for Prevention of Marine
Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft (Oslo 15 Feb.1972).
Convention relating to Civil Liability
in the field of Maritime Carriage of Nuclear Material (1971).
International Convention on the
Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation of Oil Pollution Damage
Contract regarding an Interim
Supplement to Tanker Liability for oil Pollution (1971, CRISTAL).
International Convention for the
Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (London 1954).
International Convention on Civil
Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (1960).
Offshore Pollution Liability Agreement
Tanker Owners' Voluntary Agreement
concerning Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (1969).
Agreement concerning Cooperation in
Measures to deal with Pollution of the sea by Oil (1971).
10- Convention for the Prevention of
Marine Pollution from Land-based sources (1974).
11- International Convention on Civil
Liability for Oil Pollution Damage resulting from Exploration for, or
Exploitation of, Submarine Mineral Resources (1977).
12- Agreement relating to the
Establishment of Joint Pollution Contingency Plans for Spills of Oil and other
Noxious Substances (1974).
13- Agreement of Cooperation regarding
Pollution of the Marine Environment by Discharge of Hydrocarbons and other
Hazardous Substances (1980).
14- Protocol of 1984 to amend the
International Convention on the establishment of an International Fund for
Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage1971 (1984).
15- Tanker Owners Voluntary Agreement
concerning Liability for Oil Pollution (T0VALOP).
In addition to the above instruments, which are
directly relevant to the issue at hand, there are other sets of regional and
secondary documents that must be taken into consideration for the purpose of
defining an effective regime for the protection of the Caspian Sea environment
against various pollutants, especially pollution by oil:
I.Kuwait Regional Convention for Cooperation on the
Protection of the Marine environment from Pollution (1978), along with its
protocols for on cooperation in oil pollution emergencies, and land based
II.Parts of 1982 UN convention on the Law of the Sea
which are related to marine pollution.
III.Convention on the Protection of the Marine
Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (1974).
IV.Convention for the Protection of the
Mediterranean Sea against Pollution (1976) along with its protocols on Damping
(1976), Cooperation in Emergencies (1976), Land-based sources of Pollution
(1980) and Protected Area (1982).
V.Regional Convention for the Conservation of the
Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Environment (1982).
VI.Convention for Cooperation in the Protection and
Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central
African Region (1981), along with its protocol for cooperation in emergencies.
VII.Agreement for Cooperation in dealing with
Pollution of the North Sea by Oil (1969).
The future of the Caspian Sea depends on how
successful will be the Caspian littoral states in finding of a suitable formulas
out of all these documents for protection of the unique environment of the
Caspian Sea. The most visible ways in this line are as follows:
1- The experience of the Kuwait regional
Convention (1978), which has resulted in establishment of "Regional Organization
for Protection of the Marine Environment" (ROPME) in the Persian Gulf, can be
very useful in the case of the cooperation of concerned states in the Caspian
2- Most of general and important
instruments regarding the protection of the marine environment, especially those
related to the oil pollutions, have reached a stage that is called
"mandatory." This means that all states have to observe them, even if they are
not directly party to them.
3- The Russian Federation is responsible
for a considerable amount of pollution in the Caspian Sea. At the same time, it
is signatory and party to almost all-important conventions in the law of the sea
and pollution. The only point is that they do not consider themselves as
committed to observe those obligations in the Caspian Sea. This approach has to
change. The Republic of Azerbaijan, which is responsible for polluting the
Caspian Sea by oil during the last 50 years or so, should accept the commitments
to observe internationally recognized standards of prevention of oil pollution
in these areas.
4- Out of the several thematic centers
that are established by the CEP (Caspian Environment Programme) in the littoral
states of the Caspian Sea, the Legal Center which is located in Moscow is in
charge of preparing regulations. I do not think that Russians are very
interested in preparing regulations most of which most would affect them.
Maybe these centers should circulate among the concerned states before becoming
fully independent from the CEP.
5- The local oil and gas companies (like
NIOC in Iran, SOCAR in the Republic of Azerbaijan, and Russian companies) should
adopt special environment-friendly policies in their activities in the Caspian
Sea as opposed to their practices in the past and as a guideline for
international oil companies. This in especially important because these
companies themselves takes part in oil and gas exploration and exploitation
activities in the other Caspian Sea states, in addition to what they do in their
own states. Unfortunately, at the moment these local oil and gas companies are
working under worst conditions in the Caspian Sea.
6- The international oil and gas
companies, such as Mobil, Chevron and BP, which are active in the Caspian Sea
area, and those which are planning to be present in the oil and gas scene of
this area, should agree to observe the same standards of operations that they
have in places like the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico, as far as the protection
of the environment is concerned.
7- In preparing legal documents and
operational standards in the Caspian Sea, due attention should be given to the
current international regulations and standards regarding the special areas. In
these areas (such as the Antarctic waters) in addition to the general rules and
regulations designed to protect all environments, some particular regulations
are in place because of the special geographical or physical characteristics of
the areas. In the case of the Caspian Sea, because this body of water is not
really connected to the open seas of the world, it is imperative to have special
rules and standards.
8- Establishment of "reception
facilities" in certain parts of the Caspian Sea is a necessary action. As it
was mentioned before, one the important sources of oil pollution in the marine
environment is the ballast water. These reception facilities can receive water,
which is mixed with oil residues, and return it to the sea after processing.
9- Establishment of oil and gas pipelines
in the Caspian Sea should be subject to the internationally recognized standards
for protection of the environment. There are many international documents that
can be used as a guide, and these are some of them: The Agreement relating to
the Transmission of Petroleum by Pipeline from Ekofisk Field and Neighboring
Areas to the United Kingdom (1973), the Agreement relating to the Exploitation
of the Frigg Field Reservoir, and Transmission of Gas there from to the United
Notes and references:
Neville, Environmental Protection in the Caspian Sea: Policy constraints and
Phillip Kurata, Caspian Ecosystem Menaced by pollution.
Report of the Energy Information
About the author:
Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea is a consultant to
the World Resources Company in Washington DC Area.
... Payvand News - 11/03/10 ... --