COPENHAGEN Denmark and its self-governing dependency of Greenland plan to present a seabed claim extending to the North Pole before the end of 2014 against competing claims from other Arctic states, Danish officials said on Monday.
Ownership of the Arctic seabed has grown in importance as the shrinking of sea ice has opened new prospects for exploration and production of the region's potentially vast oil and gas resources.
Under international law, no country now owns the North Pole or the Arctic Ocean area surrounding it.
Denmark's claim will be presented to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), the Danish government said in a new Strategy for the Arctic.
"The Kingdom's claim on the continental shelf will in a number of areas overlap with other countries' continental shelf claims," Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands said in the new Arctic strategy to 2020.
The claim would extend north from Greenland and follow two Arctic continental shelf claims already submitted to the CLCS by the Faroe Islands, another semi-autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal states have sovereignty out to 200 nautical miles from their shorelines, including rights to the minerals and natural resources there.
But they can claim sovereignty beyond 200 nautical miles if they can prove the existence of an extended continental shelf.
A Danish/Greenlandic claim would clash with claims by other coastal Arctic states, above all Russia which drew world attention when Russian explorers in a mini-submarine planted a Russian flag on North Pole seabed in 2007.
It would also conflict with Canadian claims, a Danish government official said.
The strategy paper did say how big the claim would be, but said it would concern three areas off Greenland, including one encompassing the North Pole
Denmark also said it aimed to resolve the ownership of the Arctic seabed under international law and in close cooperation with other Arctic states.
It said it had carried out scientific expeditions in the Arctic Ocean since 2006 to gather data to back up its claim.
"We have stated very clearly that we are in a process of collecting data that will document our claims, and meanwhile Russia and Canada and Norway are doing the same thing," Danish foreign ministry spokesman Jean Ellermann-Kingombe said.
He said the 2008 Ilulissat Declaration signed by Denmark/Greenland, Canada, Norway, Russia and the United States committed the signatories to resolving any conflicts that could emerge through negotiations and under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
"The reality is that we have a regulated area, a transparent process and a high degree of mutual trust between the five parties in the 'Arctic 5', so we do not see any conflict potential," Ellermann-Kingombe said.
(Reporting by John Acher; Editing by Maria Golovnina)