U.S. Markets closed

Spain rejects Morocco's claim on mineral-rich undersea volcano

James Badcock
Spain and Morocco have clashed over who has jurisdiction in the waters around the Canary Islands, where a mineral-rich undersea volcano is located - This content is subject to copyright.

Spanish politicians have warned Morocco against staking a claim to waters around the Canary Islands, including a massive mineral-rich undersea mountain, after the North African country made a bid for control in the area. 

Morroco's parliament on Wednesday passed legislation declaring its maritime sovereignty over the waters near the Canary Islands, extending its reach to a maximum of 350 nautical miles off the coast of the disputed territory of the Western Sahara, which is partly occupied by Morocco. 

The move conflicts with Spain’s own plans to gain jurisdiction over the area around the Canaries, waters which are home to Tropic Seamount, an extinct volcano believed to be rich in cobalt and rare-earth elements.

“Not one millimetre of Canary Islands waters will be touched by any other kingdom or country,” said Ángel Víctor Torres, president of the Canary Islands regional government.

A joint British and Spanish mission to explore the undersea volcano in 2016 concluded that the seamount may contain enough cobalt to make batteries for 277 million electric cars, as well as a huge quantity of tellurium, an element used in solar panels.

Spain’s foreign minister Arancha González Laya also stated Madrid’s firm defence of the waters around the Canary Islands, a Spanish-owned archipelago. 

“We will not accept politics done by faits accomplis or unilateral actions,” Ms González Laya posted on Twitter, ahead of a planned visit to meet members of the Moroccan government in Rabat on Friday.

Under international law, countries cannot unilaterally fix their maritime sovereignty limits beyond the minimum 12 nautical miles of territorial waters off a nation’s coast.

Spain and Morocco have never agreed on their maritime borders in the seas around the Canaries, with the island of Fuerteventura just over 50 nautical miles from southern Morocco at its closest point.

In 2014, Spain submitted a request to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to extend the economic exclusion zone around the Canary Islands beyond the existing 200 nautical miles, allowing it to include Tropic Seamount.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Burita said on Wednesday that Spain remained a “trusted ally” before stressing that Morocco “insists on its sovereignty and will approach any dialogue within the framework of its strategic rights”.