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France bans oil drilling in the Scattered Islands, amid a quarrel with Madagascar

Paris and Antanarivo compete for these small islands in the western Indian Ocean.

Through the voice of the Minister for Ecological Transition Elisabeh Borne, the French government announced on February 20, 2020 that it had refused “to extend the exclusive sea exploration license Juan de Nova Maritime Deep, located off the Scattered Islands “, French archipelago of the Mozambique channel. Antananarivo claims these islands preserved by Paris after the country's independence in 1960. This announcement came while the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was in Madagascar before going to Mozambique on February 22.

According to the site news-environment, the offshore exploration license called Juan de Nova Maritime Deep was granted in 2013 to the Nigerian company (Sapetro) South Atlantic Petroleum and his American sister Marex Petroleum. Extended for the first time in 2015, “it authorized the two oil companies to continue their search for hydrocarbons until December 30, 2018” on the island of Juan Nova. The proximity of huge gas fields off the coast of the Cabo Delgado region, in northeast Mozambique, probably explains this … We don't know the results of drilling for Sapetro and Marex Petroleum.

Jean-Yves Le Drian's trip to Mozambique has been criticized by some environmentalists. Friends of the Earth also stresses that “French operators including Total are developing large gas projects there, financially supported by the public authorities through export financing”. The French company notably bought “the participation of the American group Anadarko in a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Mozambique”, reminds RFI.

“We are once again witnessing the government's double-sided ecology. Today, they announce the refusal to extend a research license off the Scattered Islands. Tomorrow, Jean-Yves Le Drian is traveling to Mozambique to defend the interests of the French fossil industry “, reacted Cécile Marchand, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

Presumed to be rich in hydrocarbons, the five Scattered Islands are made up of Glorieuses, Europa, Juan de Nova, Bassas de India (located between Madagascar and Mozambique) and Tromelin (east of Madagascar). The archipelago, whose land area represents approximately 38.6 km², is the subject of a lively territorial quarrel between Paris and Antananarivo.

This 'set of very small French islands arouses lust and stirs up diplomatic tensions'Mediapart in 2015

It must be said that said set represents “640,400 km² of marine territory (around 6% of French maritime territory), potential fishing area”, indicated franceinfo in November 2019. This thus offers France, which already has the second largest maritime domain in the world behind the United States, an additional area of ​​exclusive economic zone in the Indian Ocean. Which “alone accounts for a quarter of world economic trade”.

French authorities call also these islands of “'ocean sanctuaries of primitive nature', with a remarkable terrestrial and marine biological heritage “. Result: the Scattered have been classified nature reserve. With the exception of Juan de Nova, the island off which oil exploration has been undertaken.

Today, the Scattered are claimed by Madagascar, Mauritius for its part claiming Tromelin. “In 1960, just before the declaration of independence of the Big Island, Paris attached the Scattered to the Ministry of the French overseas departments and territories, the overseas departments and territories. As a result, Madagascar became emancipated but left its archipelago under the French banner “, according to franceinfo.

During his visit to La Grande Glorieuse, one of the Scattered Islands (Indian Ocean), on October 23, 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron holds a piece of “lettuce coral”. He talks here with the director of the Tara Océan foundation, Romain Troublé. (AFP – JACQUES WITT / POOL)

In October 2019, President Emmanuel Macron stopped over at Les Glorieuses, explaining: “Here, it's France, it's our pride, it's our wealth.” History to mark well the determination of Paris … “An affront to the Madagascans”then titled The world.

However, twice in 1979 and 1980, UN had intervened in favor of Antananarivo by two non-binding resolutions.

The United Nations General Assembly 'invites the French government to begin negotiations with the Malagasy government without further delay with a view to the reintegration of the aforementioned islands, which have been arbitrarily separated from Madagascar'United Nations resolution 34/91 in 1979

The French government’s decision to halt offshore oil exploration off the Scattered River comes at a time when Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Antananarivo. Perhaps a way of relaxing the atmosphere with Madagascar by telling it that Paris is not trying to exploit the potential reserves of black gold there.

During his stay on the Big Island, Jean-Yves Le Drian signed several agreements: two on education, another for the payment of “240 million euros over four years, half loan, half grant, for implementation” projects, including “in the field of water, electricity”, as the reminds RFI.

The case of the Scattered Islands was also discussed. “This is a subject that merits further discussion. The two presidents (French and Malagasy, Editor's note) talked about it in May (2019), they have decided to set up a joint commission to, at the same time, exchange our legal arguments and exchange our development proposals on the areas concerned. There will now be a second meeting and the work will continue with confidence, friendship and clarity “, recalled the Minister.

“Since the start of the negotiations, France has maintained a diplomatic vagueness about the Scattered Islands. Jean-Yves Le Drian has not brought more light and insists on the continuation of the negotiations”, comments the Malagasy newspaper L'Express de Madagascar. Clearly, on the merits, the status quo continues. And Les Scarses remain French.

Aerial view of Bassas de India, one of the five Scattered Islands (Indian Ocean). Photo taken on April 9, 2014.
Aerial view of Bassas de India, one of the five Scattered Islands (Indian Ocean). Photo taken on April 9, 2014. (AFP – FRANCOIS LEPAGE / HANS LUCAS)

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