Japan is planning a huge boost in research on rare undersea minerals around the country estimated to be worth trillions of yen, and wants U.N. approval for its claims on the continental shelf, government sources said.

Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, a coastal state can claim economic interests in a continental shelf beyond its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), provided there is geographical or geological continuity of the seabed.

EEZs are limited to 200 nautical miles from baselines used to measure territorial seas.

In delineating the continental shelf, Japan needs to submit information to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf by May 2009 and receive approval.

Through continental research started in 1983, the government believes Japan can claim 650,000 sq. km of continental shelf, which would be 70 percent larger than the nation’s land area.

Experts say this huge undersea area contains a bounty of resources, worth several trillion yen. A government source said resource research “is intensely linked to national interests.”

Last year, however, the U.N. panel rejected information submitted by Russia, which was also conducting similar research for a continental shelf claim.

Close examination of the Russian application revealed that the U.N. panel was employing rigorous standards for approving claims, and with the current data Japan has gathered, it would likely gain approval for only about 10 percent of what it wants, a source at the Japan Coast Guard said.

Against this backdrop, the government will seek some 100 billion yen in appropriations over the next six years for continental shelf research, a sharp increase from the fiscal 2003 budget of around 200 million yen.

While the current research is being undertaken by two boats owned by the Japan Coast Guard, the government plans to farm out research to private firms and bring in ocean research vessels owned by other government bodies, according to the sources.

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