Fake Maritime Boundaries 58

The British Government has published a map showing the coordinates of the incident, well within an Iran/Iraq maritime border. The mainstream media and even the blogosphere has bought this hook, line and sinker.

But there are two colossal problems.

A) The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.

B) Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land. Go on, print out the map and measure it. Which underlines the point that the British produced border is not a reliable one.

None of which changes the fact that the Iranians, having made their point, should have handed back the captives immediately. I pray they do so before this thing spirals out of control. But by producing a fake map of the Iran/Iraq boundary, notably unfavourable to Iran, we can only harden the Iranian position.

Allowed HTML - you can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

58 thoughts on “Fake Maritime Boundaries

1 2
  • Boss

    Peppering the board with half baked technicalities, all the while harrumphing the official line these days is passed on as 'debate'.

    1975 Algiers Accord (talks about, future talks, for a possible, probable agreement) about the disputed borders between then Shah and Saddam, getting passed on as the basis of the 'how right Mr. Blair is' effectively hands a get out of jail card to a bunch of incompetent operators whom so far have fumbled from mild crisis to outright disasters, without any accountability. Good for the culprits, but what is int it for the UK?

    Considering that;

    1- Failure in Iraq; an unmitigated disaster that cannot be glossed over by any amount of 'spin' and 'perception management' (some would call it brain washing).

    2- The initial bullish and tough guy stance of Tony Poodlerano on the telly in the EU backslapping convention, whom confidently pronounced the 'illegal' and 'wrong' action of the Iranians in the face of UK mandate awarded by the UN to look after the Iraqi territories. Which then rapidly vanished, giving way to the 'sweaty', 'nervous disposition' accompanied by the 'Christian Look' (the far away gaze, and numb facial features, warbling voice thrown in for good measures). Has set the scene for the continuation of the sad and sorry drama unfolding, before us all.

    Fact that legalities and pedantries, not forgetting the UN; are only referred to, in the time of crisis, goes missing. Lawlessness has been the hallmark of these sharp operators, whom have systematically committed premeditated mass serial murder in Iraq, and Afghanistan, disputing the figures of the dead civilians, and soldiers alike. Disputed also has been the whereabouts of officially shipped forty two articulated truck, laden with one hundred dollar bills without so much as a pretend receipt provided for, going missing. Prevarication galore for the litany of lies, and plots to make the murder spree happen, all the while blaming the failures, and or abhorrence of the action undertaken on someone else, apparently is quiet legal. (anyone remember the Frenchies and the UN? remember the forty five minutes between us and the oblivion? remember the grainy Iraqi aircraft in flight? remember the mobile mass murder factories? remember the aluminum tubes, 500 tonnes of uranium ore that was pure uranium? remember the URANUM in the Turkish border, that was sufficient for a nuclear bomb in the neatly printed made in Germany canister?)

    To find our troops being sent into the disputed waters, as corroborated by Brigadier Jasim Hakim the head of the Iraqi border security for the area, whom is on record; 'when fishermen informed us of the position of the British personnel, we were surprised to find the British operating in sensitive Iranian territories.' Has not been of any concern, yet the outrage allbeit artificial is heating up.

    Now the nice newsman on the telly would not dare to hint at this, after all the 'two minutes hate' would be meaningless without the 'Iranian Villains', and how can we let go of the 'Mother of the three year old' whom was so fortuitously interviewed, going on record for the benefit of the narrative?

    The realities are, reconnoitering the reaction speed, and defensive measures of the Iranians going pear shaped, cannot be explained away by the homework-vore dog that has caused so much grief in Number Ten to date. ie 'dog ate my homework does not cut the mustard'.

    Finally Iranians have clearly indicated that, they will not be cowed, and coerced, hence setting the scene for an almighty bloodbath, if so much as a single shot is fired in their direction.

  • ziz

    This is all rather eminsicent of Mediaeval bishops quarelling about how many seraphims can be comfortably sat on a pinhead.

    The real politik is thet the UK dragged their coat tails, IRan either were duped or seized the opportunity to tweak the beard of the infidel and pounced.

    The rsolution has absolutely fuck all to do with UN / Maritime Law it is more High crimes and misdemeanours than High and Low water marks – at what state of the moon Pray ?

    What intrigues is ;

    1. The BBC fillum the sassy lady by "coincidence" the day prior, and just happen to be handily placed. BBC World is of course a section of the Foreign Office.

    2. The Lynx helicopter gave "top cover" then for some reason whilst the boarders were still at work returned leaving their colleagues exposed. The MOD vrief is silent on this merely sayin g that after the oincident the Lynx was sent ovr and checked the GSP ref of the anchored vessels and provided a handy snap to almost prove it.

    Why the Missing Lynx – these are seasoned boarding parties, this is a routine stop aned search and the aircraft giving cover was withdrawen. The MOD brief is silent withdrawn but Mark Urban on Newsnight said it had a need to re-fuel.

    So the Navy plans these risky ventures with insufficent fuel to complete the task – leaving as we now know their colleagues to be casually kidnapped.

    It stinks. The Navy crewmen and army staff are victims of a crude and cruel and very risky political trick.

    The PR machine is in full cry to defend our "brave" lads and cigarette puffing mum – using the Iranians fillum which apparently gives such great offence against the kaws of Man and God, not to mention Geneva Conventions ( small point, these cannot be POW's – unless of course we are at war with Iran, whih if we are not, it looks as though we very soon will be).

  • Randal

    I see the Guardian also is now using the British government's map of the border without proper explanation:

    Democracy and a free press are such wonderful things, are they not, when the people are so well informed about crucial issues?

  • Craig

    I phoned Richard Norton Taylor and told him that the boundaries are not genuine, in some detail, two days ago. I also told the Independent. They really don't want to know. It is a race to sound the most patriotic and jut out their jaw the furthest.

  • Fairygoatfather

    Many good comments here.

    My thought is:

    Since when did Britain become the owner

    of Iraqi or Iranian waters? Surely this "hostage" issue should be governed by maritime laws rather than military jurisdiction!

    We are an invading force in the region, Iraq is not our sovereign state. Is it?

  • swheelz

    This has to be one of the best quality blogs I've seen for a while – very little from the "I fink we shud jus send in the SAS and then nook em" lobby, yet also not too heavy on the leftie conspiracy theories either. One might even call it a balanced, rational debate. If only the grown-ups in London and Tehran could do the same. If both sides were truly interested in keeping the peace, then both should agree that the area is disputed and refer the matter to either a bilateral negotiation (between Iraq and Iran – not the UK) or, even better, independent adjudication by an international court, if such a thing exists. This should be a civil matter, not a military one.

    In the meantime, the Iranians really should give the sailors back to avoid being labelled as hostage-takers. Unfortunately to do so now would be hugely embarassing and I really can't see the Iranian hardliners swallowing their pride or giving up their leverage.

    Fortunately I don't believe the Americans are really serious about military action – they are far too overstretched to even contemplate air strikes against a country with such a strong defensive capability. I think Cold War II is much more likely than World War III

  • Randal

    Just to make it clear that the Guardian can't claim ignorance in its own defence for posting the blatantly misleading and inflammatory map linked above, here's their version of the AP piece posted on Tuesday.

    Iran's Border Muddles Captivity Issue


    ""Until a boundary is agreed, you could only be certain that the personnel were in Iraqi territorial waters if they were within 12 miles of the (Iraqi) coast and, at the same time, more than 12 miles from any island, spit, bar or sandbank claimed by Iran," said Craig Murray, former chief of the Maritime Section of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office."

    ""If this happened south of where the river boundary ends, knowing the coordinates wouldn't necessarily help us," said Richard Schofield, an expert on the waterway at King's College in London. "We have to accept the British claim with as much salt as the Iranian claim.""

  • Martin Pratt

    I have posted a map which shows my understanding of the boundary situation between Iran and Iraq at the mouth of the Shatt al Arab at http://www.dur.ac.uk/ibru/resources/iran-iraq/

    If anyone can provide verifiable details of the territorial sea claims of Iran or Iraq, coordinates defining where Iran believes the incident took place, or Iranian data on the low-water line, I will gladly add them to the map.

  • Lopakhin

    Ziz: 'BBC World is of course a section of the Foreign Office.'

    This is incorrect.

    BBC World is a commercial operation, which doesn't even receive any Foreign Office money. You may be confusing it with the World Service radio, which does, but still isn't 'a section of the Foreign Office'.

  • ziz

    Lopakhin – you are correct on both counts, the ignorance and confusion were all mine.

    The whole of the BBC is of course effectively state controlled through subtle means of recruitment, governance, funding wars and applied pressure, the Gilligan affair being of course the worst recent example.

  • swheelz

    I have just read the UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE LAW OF THE SEA <a href="http://(http://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/closindx.htm),” target=”_blank”>(http://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/closindx.htm), or at least the parts that seem applicable in this instance.

    Assuming that the sailors were in Iranian territorial waters, which appears to be the less likely, though possible, scenario, they would forfeit their right of innocent passage because they were carrying out operations with weapons and affecting the sovereignty of Iran (Art 19.2 a and b). However, the convention only gives the aggreived state the right to request that the offending party leave immediately:

    Art 30: "If any warship does not comply with the laws and regulations of the coastal State concerning passage through the territorial sea and disregards any request for compliance therewith which is made to it, the coastal State may require it to leave the territorial sea immediately."

    I assume that the RIBs are classed as warships as they carry the white ensign and are crewed by regular servicemen, but I may be wrong. There was mention in the convention that the vessel needs to have a duly-commissioned officer. I haven't heard of any officer reported in the press, but I would be very surprised if the boarding party were led by a junior rate. Not sure if a senior rate / NCO would suffice.

    The convention doesn't appear to say what powers the coastal state have in terms of arrests etc should the request to leave be ignored. However, it doesn't look like any such request was made either to the RIB crew or to HMS Cornwall, unless Iran claims that this incident is a continuance of the 2004 incident, which would be stretching it a little I think.

    Does anyone have any legal justification for the arrest itself? (other than on charges of espionage which would be ridiculous).

  • Craig

    It is complicated by the fact that they were not just whizzing around in boats (if that was all then Iran would just have to ask them to leave, as you say) but had conducted an armed boarding of a neutral vessel.

    If they had boarded a vessel in Iranian territorial waters, Iran would have the right to arrest them. Say this boarding by the British of a neutral vessel had happened close to the Iranian coast twenty miles to the East, nobody would doubt that.

    But of course these are disputed waters. Just as we are wrong unequivocally to say they are Iraqi waters, Iran cannot say unequivocally they are Iranian waters either.

    Given the waters are disputed, Iran's behaviour is bellicose and an overreaction. But then, so is ours.

  • Craig

    That is why, incidentally, the MOD are quite right to put the emphasis on where the boarded vessel was, not the route of the boats. Military personnel just being in military boats in foreign territorial seas would not be an arrestable offence, just a warning off; a boarding would.

  • Cyrus Safdari

    Actually (and this is a mere sidebar) the Vincennes opened the conflict with the Iranian Boghammers inside Iranian waters, which she entered because her helo had taken fire from the Iranian speedboats – after the helo buzzed them and quite predictably drew warning shots. The US Navy denied that the Vincennes was inside Iraian waters for 4 years, an went as far as to present a map to the Congressional inquiry which deleted an Iranian island. Thw whole thing was probably an intentional provocation intended to draw out the Iranian forces, but went horribly wrong.

  • Spinoza750

    This issue seems to be just preliminary to an attack on Iran as far as I can see. We need people out in the streets demanding no attack and threatening major civil disobedience and a general strike.

  • swheelz

    Spinoza750 – your suggestion sounds a little over-the-top considering the UK government has explicitly rejected the use of force to solve the problem and is keeping the real muscle (the US) well out of it.

    There is no war happening here – just posturing and propaganda by both sides. Iran has got what it wanted and now just needs to offload the captives without losing face. I can see this sorted out within a week – two at the most.

  • GregPotemkin

    Dear Mr Murray,

    I find the arguments on this blog quite interesting.

    However, a number of questions arise, from examining the treaties which are mentioned here.

    Article 15 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea states the following:

    "Where the coasts of two States are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither of the two States is entitled, failing agreement between them to the contrary, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two States is measured. The above provision does not apply, however, where it is necessary by reason of historic title or other special circumstances to delimit the territorial seas of the two States in a way which is at variance therewith."

    Someone correct me if I am wrong, but doesn't this, in and of itself, mean that in the absence of any agreement to the contrary between the adjacent states (in this case Iran and Iraq) that the median principle applies – i.e. if the site in question is located within the twelve nautical mile limit, it is in the territorial waters of the state whose "land" is nearest?

    However, this raises the question of how far out "land" is defined, and whose land it is.

    Article 1, paragraph 3 of the 1975 "Algiers Accord" which established the land border between the two states refers to hydrographic charts which are made a part of the agreement:

    "3. Common hydrographic charts, which have been verified on the spot and corrected, and on which the geographical co-ordinates of the 1975 frontier crossing points have been indicated; these charts have been signed by the hydrographic experts of the Mixed Technical Commission and countersigned by the heads of the Iran, Iraq and Algerian delegations to the Committee. The said charts, listed hereinafter, are annexed to this Protocol and form an integral part thereof:

    Chart No. 1: Entrance to the Shatt-al-Arab, No. 3842, published by the British Admiralty.

    Chart No. 2: Inner Bar to Kabda Point, No. 3843, published by the British Admiralty.

    Chart No. 3: Kabda Point to Abadan, No. 3844, published by the British Admiralty.

    Chart No. 4: Abadan to Jazirat Ummat Tuwaylah, No. 3845, published by the British Admiralty."

    And then article 3, paragraph 2 of the treaty establishes the end of the "land border" as being at the astronomical lowest low-water mark indicated on the charts.

    "2. The two Contacting Parties have agreed to consider that the river frontier shall end at the straight line connecting the two banks of the Shatt-al-Arab, as its mouth, at the astronomical lowest low-water mark. This straight line has been indicated on the common hydrographic charts referred to in Article 1, paragraph 3, above."

    Does anyone know if copies of these charts are available online? It seems that this is the only way to determine the extent of the land of each state, and then of their respective territorial seas.

    I realize that using the 1982 UN Convention is somewhat debatable, especially since the 1975 treaty couldn't have anticipated the rules established later, and that Iran is still not a signatory to the 1982 convention, but the applicable portions of the 1982 convention are not really different than the rules laid out in article 12 and 13 of the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone.

  • Craig

    Greg –

    Well the median principle applies unless there are "special circumstances". The complex channels and historic navigation rights in this sea are just the kind of special circumstance envisaged.

    But even if you do just go for a median line, establishing a median line, and agreeing what is land, the baselines and which triangulation points count, is not a simple exercise, as discussed at great length in my 27 March post headed "captured marines again". There is no independent authority with the power to agreewhat the median line is, where there is no agreement between the bordering states.

    The 1975 Algiers agreement provided for updating every ten years – these updates, necessary because of change of channels and banks over time, have not been carried out, which makes the application of that treaty yet another source of moot points.

    It is generally accepted that UNCLOS on these questions now has the force of customary international law, so I would argue it does apply here. But not everyone accepts UNCLOS as enshrining customary international law, and to complicate matters, neither Iran nor Iraq is a party to UNCLOS.

  • GregPotemkin


    It appears that I made an error, when I said that Iran is not a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

    According to the UN web-site, Iran did sign the treaty on 10 Dec, 1982.

    However, according to the same web-site, no instrument of ratification has been sent.

    Also, article 77 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic requires that the majlis approve of treaties.

  • Craig


    it is a signatory but not a party (ie it hasn't ratified yet). This could be yet again because of divisions in the Iranian government. Iran uses straight baselines for its territorial sea claims, and it would have to modify many of these to accord with the Convention. Frankly, it is such a weird theocracy that goodness knows what else they might object to.

  • sam pender

    Amazing comments-many very accurate, many as conspiratorial as the idea of a staged moon landing.

    When it comes to facts, there are two simple ones:

    1) a simple check of the locations on Google Earth shows that (second) reported position of the incident-per Iran's claims-happened in water too shallow to draft the Indian vessel; ie, it couldn't have happened where the Iranians said or the ship would still be stuck in the mud.

    2) GPS. Sorry, but unless one is a believer in the staged moon landings, pics like these are most likely real:

    Yes, that pic was taken after the incident, but that again demonstrates that the incident couldn't have happened in the shallow tidewaters especially at the TIME of the incident (check tides 😉 ).

    Sorry. Hate PM Blair all ya want, or whatever, but in this case it seems that the Iranians are the ones lying-or grossly mistaken.

  • egdlym

    Iranian TV footage of the UK military personnel had a map of the Shatt al Arab with the lat/lon written on the map alongside a position marker. I cant read the coordinates which might be in Arabic script. Any ideas of it in something I can read?

    Re the availability of Admiralty charts, the charts are unlikely to be available for free unless some enterprising person posesses a paper map, scans it in as a jpg, tiff or OZFX4 format etc and posts it on the web. I have an two maps:- an aeronautical 1:500,000-scale map with the gps fixes quoted from the UK side if anyone wants me to post them, and a Landsat-7 image with the same gps plots.


  • GregPotemkin

    Richard, if you could post a link to the map which appeared on Iranian television, i might could read it – Arabic/persian numbers are not that difficult to read, and if i have any trouble i would be happy to ask an Iranian friend of mine.

    Re the admiralty charts, although there may be some question of their current validity, the charts which were referred to in the original 1975 treaty would provide a good starting point, and it seems to me that the British admiralty would have an interest in publishing them (the versions quoted in the treaty), if they do indeed confirm that the purported location of the Indian ship was within the area of Iraqi land/territorial waters.

  • Craig


    Both the British and Iranian coordinates are in too shallow water for that Iranian ship, (see more recent postings on the weblog).

    The point is that the coordinates are anyway not more than a curiosity, as the boundary is not fixed.

  • Craig


    There is a further point. The 1975 boundary was to be updated every ten years as the boundary is defined down to the low tide mark as the centre of the main flow. That flow almost certainly isn't where it was in 1975. So you can't simply presume that the 1975 line is still the line.

  • GregPotemkin

    Craig, I read that in the text of the 1975 treaty as well.

    However, I think that the border, as established at that time is still relevant.

    You are of course, quite right in saying that the sands in the gulf have probably shifted and that consequently it could be argued that the border has also shifted.

    However, I would take a different position on this issue. While the Iranians would be within their rights under the treaty to make a claim that the land border had changed, due to "changes brought about by natural causes in the main navigable channel" as stated in article 2 paragraph 2, nevertheless, paragraph 3 of the same article states that:

    "The occurrence of any of the changes referred to in paragraph 2 above shall be attested jointly by the competent technical authorities of the two Contracting Parties".

    In other words, only if attested to by Iran and Iraq, would any alteration of the border become valid. Of course, either Iran or Iraq could make a claim that the other party was not acting in good faith, if they refused to attest to such an alteration, but clearly the authority to make such a claim is limited to Iran and Iraq – Britain could NOT lodge such a complaint.

    Consequently, I am interested in the location of the border as referenced on the admiralty charts.

    Sorry, if it sounds as if my points are redundant.

  • egdlym

    I am replying to whoever asked me to supply the url where the Arabic lat/lon was scrawled on a map which the sailors were pointing at while 'admitting' they were off-side. It as given below.

    The video seen earlier wasnt found today but may be lurking in there somewhere, but there is a still pic of the map. Its history now as they are due to be released shortly but it would be worth getting the Iranian lat/lon deciphered.

    It isnt easy to reply to a specific poster on this newgroup!

    The UK Hygrographic Office who publish the charts are famous for charging the earth for paper or digital maps and they are very copyright-concious, and both comments also apply to the Ordnance Survey and British Geological Survey. Buying the maps quoted in the UN stuff is the only way unless someone has the maps and is prepared to send a jpg.

    I now have two satellite pics, and the Shatt al Arab waterway seems different between them. One was either at extreme low tide or the water is clear and shallow enough for the bottom to show up a long way out to sea. The estuary has meandered even between their photo times.

    the UK newspaper "The Guardian" which I quoted from, has re-published the sat-map with 29 50' 36"N 048 43' 08" E given by MOD as the place where the capture occured. The Guardisn also showed a photo taken from a Navy helicopter hovering above the merchant ship being searched, with a Garmin Etrex GPS in the helo's cockpit displaying position 29 50.174' N, 48 43.544' E. After converting to make both co-ords the same format (dd mm ss, or dd mm.mmm)The two positions are 1.027 Km apart in an orientation parallel to the run of the estuary. So all is not as straightforward even at the start!

    The Guardian showed the navigable

    channel clearly seen with a meander and sandbank which is not followed by their

    overprint of the Iraq/Iran offshore boundary. Therefore any ship

    would have to curve into Iraqi waters on its way up the channel if

    this is correct. If on the other hand the boundary goes mid-channel

    round the bend, the ship's position would be much closer to the line.

    Another issue is:- did the Iranians leave the sailors' gps running for a time after they were arrested? If so how do they know if the coords the Iranians gave were exactly at the time of capture and not later after they had been escorted to the Iranian side? They would have to use their own gps obviously.


1 2

Comments are closed.