The opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has decided to send a letter to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) concerning the ongoing dispute between the Maldives and Mauritius over the delimitation of maritime boundaries in the Indian Ocean (Mauritius/Maldives case). The ITLOS is set to make a decision on the matter on Friday, April 28.
During the case proceedings, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Mauritius, stating that the Maldives recognizes Mauritius' claim to sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. This marks a significant shift in the Maldivian historic stance, which previously acknowledged the UK's sovereignty over the archipelago.
The PPM has expressed concern that President Solih's decision to accept Mauritius' claim over the Chagos Archipelago was made without consulting the Parliament. They fear that the change in stance may lead to a significant loss of Maldivian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) territory, as the maritime boundary will likely be divided based on the principle of equidistance. If Chagos is considered as part of Mauritius' territory, the farthest point of Mauritius would extend to the farthest point of the Chagos Archipelago.
As a fishing nation, the Maldives has relied on the waters in the disputed EEZ for sustenance and livelihood for thousands of years. Tuna, a migratory species, constitutes a significant portion of the Maldivian fishing industry. If Mauritius begins industrial fishing in the waters surrounding the Chagos Archipelago, it is likely that tuna stocks in the area will be depleted, directly affecting Maldivian fishing communities and the nation's economy.
The Maldives and Mauritius both adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which governs matters concerning maritime boundaries and delimitation. As the ITLOS prepares to deliver its decision, Maldivian fishermen and communities that depend on the contested waters remain on edge, hoping for an outcome that will protect their livelihoods and the future of the nation's fishing industry.