Petronas has no offshore rights, says Borneo activist

22/4/2018

Sabah and Sarawak state governments urged to take legal action to stop Petronas oil and gas activities in the waters of the Borneo continental shelf.

KOTA KINABALU: A Borneo activist has called for legal action to stop Petronas from operating in the offshore petroleum and gas-rich areas.

Zainnal Ajamain told a forum here yesterday that the national oil company might have no legal standing to be operating in the waters of the Sabah and Sarawak continental shelf.

Sabah and Sarawak should seek an injunction against Petronas from operating in their waters, he said.

He pointed out that both states had rejected the "Territorial Sea Act" passed by Parliament in 2012, which defines the maritime boundaries of Malaysia and the federal government’s rights over them.

Sabah Progressive Party president Yong Teck Lee, who was at the forum, said the battle over the "Territorial Sea Act" (or Act 750) was the “next frontier” in reclaiming Sabah’s rights.

“We have won the battle on Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). Now everybody is talking about it,” he said. “Act 750 is the issue we must address now,” he added.

Zainnal said that in 1954, the colonial administration had defined the territories of the two states as extending to the continental shelf.

However, the federal government had assumed ownership of the continental shelf through the Terrorial Sea Act. Then, with the Petroleum Development Act 1974, the federal government handed over ownership and exploitation of petroleum resources in the area to Petronas.

“But with Sabah and Sarawak now saying they are rejecting Act 750, the federal government has nothing to give to Petronas,” he said. “The legal maxim for this is ‘nemo dat quod non habet’, that is you cannot give what you don’t have.”

The continental shelf is an underwater landmass which extends from the mainland, resulting in a relatively shallow area of the sea. According to international law, it is 340 miles (563km) from the baseline – the middle area between the high and low tides – into the South China Sea.

Zainnal said ownership of the oil and gas fields there should rest with the states. Petronas was just a contractor there.

He said China appeared to be aware of Sabah’s rights when it built one of its South China Sea outposts on Fiery Cross Reef, just outside Sabah’s maritime territory, 350 miles from the Sabah baseline.

About 100 people attended the forum, on Sabah’s Territorial Waters and the State’s Future. It was organised by the Progressive Institute for Public Policy Analysis.

Sabah’s minister with special functions, Teo Chee Kang, had recently said Act 750 could not be applicable to the state because of the lack of prior consent of the state assembly.

He said the Federal Constitution provided the boundaries of a state could only be amended with the consent of the state, expressed by a law made by the state legislature, and the consent of the Rulers’ Conference.

Teo contended that the boundaries of Sabah’s territorial sea was defined by pre-Malaysia law, and included the continental shelf.

He said Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg had also asserted territorial control over the state’s continental shelf.