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Norwegian ambassador cites increasing Arctic seabed infrastructure security issues

Gas emanates from a leak on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea in September 2022 following sabotage to the pipeline. Concerns are growing about seabed infrastructures security. (Swedish Coast Guard)

Arctic countries need to recalibrate the way they oversee and protect subsea infrastructure in the Arctic regional waters, given the increasing interest in augmenting the pipelines, cabling, and related equipment that make up these networks and recent actions off Nordic coasts, according to Rolf Einar Fife, Norwegian ambassador to the European Union (EU) and a member of the United Nations' (UN's) International Law Commission.

“We have to polish our spectacles,” Fife said on 21 February during the event Beneath the Ice: Navigating Legal Frameworks and Collaborative Solutions for Subsea Infrastructure Protection in the Arctic at the Wilson Center Polar Institute in Washington, DC.

“We have to take [a] second look, a serious look, at critical infrastructure,” Fife said.

This subsea infrastructure includes pipelines, optic cabling, and systems needed for exploitation of natural resources. While Fife maintained that such infrastructure should be viewed in the same way as freedom of the sea navigation is treated, tension has heightened in recent years as countries lay claim to territorial waters, economic zone boundaries, and access rights in such waters.

“Increased interest in developing offshore resources, including hydrocarbons and seabed minerals, in the Arctic has sparked efforts by Arctic coastal countries to map the extent of their continental margins beyond the limits of the 200 n miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted in its report, Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress, released on 18 January.

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