Timor Gap

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Timor Gap

The Timor Gap is an area of the Timor Sea between Australia and Timor Island. The island is divided between independent East Timor and West Timor province of Indonesia.


The Timor Gap is part of the Australia-East Timor border, Australia-Indonesia border, and East Timor–Indonesia border. It is 480 km (300 statute miles) wide.


Australia and Indonesia negotiated the border in 1972 and the Timor gap is part of the line they could not define because Portugal, who governed colonial East Timor then, declined to participate in the negotiations until the conclusion of UNCLOS negotiations, [1] due to the extremely complex nature of both international law and the complex geographical problems posed.

Timor Gap Treaty

Australia and Indonesia each posed different delimitation boundaries on their borders, while Portugal chose to abstain until a formal determination of an appropriate method for delimitation could be discerned. East Timor was later invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975. This annexation was not recognised by the UN, the people of Timor nor by the Portuguese, who continued to see it as an illegally occupied territory. In 1989 despite more than a decade of brutal Indonesian occupation, Australia and Indonesia agreed that Indonesia's ongoing occupation of Timor removed the need to include Portugal in any further negotiations and went on to bilaterally negotiate the Timor Gap Treaty.

On 30 August 1999 a UN sponsored referendum saw East Timor chose independence. On the 19th of January 2000 The UN Temporary Administration agency for East Timor UNTAET signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Australia to maintain the existing border agreement with Australia so as to allow continued development of the Timor Gap to ensure the financial future of the new country. The decision to maintain the historical agreement with Australia that had been negotiated by Indonesia caused great frustration to many Timorese. [2]

Numerous negotiations to determine the ownership of the tens of billions of dollars' worth of oil and gas located on the seabed of the Timor Sea, including completing the undefined boundary known as the Timor Gap, were held between Australia and East Timor from 2002 onwards. During this time Australia and international oil companies were accused of pressuring East Timor to accept a petroleum revenue-sharing formula while deferring permanent boundary resolution and foregoing legal avenues.

Timor Sea Treaty

On its independence day, East Timor signed the Timor Sea Treaty with Australia. This treaty practically puts East Timor in the place of Indonesia in the Timor Gap Treaty, except that the ratio of revenue distribution in the Joint Petroleum Development Area, known as the Zone of Cooperation under the 1989 treaty, was changed to 90:10 in favour of East Timor. The 2002 treaty provided for the future "unitisation" - treating a gas or oil field which straddles one or several borders as one unit - of the Greater Sunrise gas field, of which only 20% was located within the JPDA while the rest was deemed to be in Australian territory. In East Timor's view, this distribution could be disputed as it did not recognise the borders, drawn between Australia and Indonesia, which placed the bulk of Greater Sunrise in Australian territory.

On 20 February 2007, East Timor's parliament agreed to ratify the agreement with Australia over the management of oil and gas resources in the Greater Sunrise field in the Timor Sea. The Australian and East Timor governments formally exchanged notes in Dili on 23 February 2007 to bring into force the two treaties that provided the legal and fiscal framework for the development of the Greater Sunrise gas field in the Timor Sea.

The notes covered the Sunrise International Unitization Agreement (Sunrise IUA) and the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS). Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, using a power invoked only six times in its history, invoked a "national interest" exemption clause to fast-track ratification of the CMATS treaty through the Parliament without scrutiny by its Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. [3]

2018 Maritime Boundaries Treaty

On March 7, 2018, Australia and East Timor announced that a treaty had been signed regarding the border and the exploitation of the Greater Sunrise gas field. The agreed boundary would follow the median line between the two countries. The 2018 Maritime Boundaries Treaty formalized the agreement reached by Australia and Timor Leste on their maritime boundaries. The two countries had failed to reach agreement on a preferred option for development of the Sunrise/Troubadour field, and annexes to the Treaty set out procedures for achieving this. Article 3 of the 2018 treaty on maritime boundaries between Australia and Timor-Leste provides for adjustment of the continental shelf boundary between the two countries following settlement of that boundary between Indonesia and Timor-Leste. If those countries agree to an endpoint to their continental shelf boundary west of point A18 on the 1972 Seabed Treaty Boundary, the continental shelf boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste shall be adjusted so that it proceeds in a geodesic line from point TA-2 in the 2018 Treaty (at 11° 24' 00.61" South and 126° 18' 22.48" East), to point A18 (at 18 10° 37' South and 125° 41' East). The Treaty provides that this shall not come into force before the commercial depletion of the Laminaria and Corallina Fields. In the event that a continental shelf boundary agreed between Timor-Leste and Indonesia meets the 1972 Seabed Treaty boundary at a point to the west of point A18 on the 1972 Seabed Treaty Boundary, the continental shelf boundary shall be adjusted so that it proceeds in a geodesic line from point TA-11 in the 2018 Treaty (at 9° 42' 21.49" South and 128° 28' 35.97" East), to point A18. But this shall not come into force before the commercial depletion of the Greater Sunrise Fields.[ citation needed ]

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Territorial waters</span> Coastal waters that are part of a sovereign states sovereign territory

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Timor Sea</span> Sea between Malay Archipelago and Australia

The Timor Sea is a relatively shallow sea in the Indian Ocean bounded to the north by the island of Timor with Timor-Leste to the north, Indonesia to the northwest, Arafura Sea to the east, and to the south by Australia. The Sunda Trench marks the deepest point of the Timor Sea with a depth of more than 3300 metres, separating the continents of Oceania in the southeast and Asia to the northwest and north. The Timor sea is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis north of the Sunda Trench, due to its location on the Ring of Fire as well as volcanic activity and can experience major cyclones, due to the proximity from the Equator.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Timor Gap Treaty</span>

The Timor Gap Treaty was formally known as the Treaty between Australia and the Republic of Indonesia on the zone of cooperation in an area between the Indonesian province of East Timor and Northern Australia. It was a bilateral treaty between the governments of Australia and Indonesia, which provided for the joint exploitation of petroleum and hydrocarbon resources in a part of the Timor Sea Seabed. The treaty was signed on 11 December 1989 and came into force on 9 February 1991. The signatories to the treaty were then Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Gareth Evans and then Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Timor Sea Treaty</span> 2002 geopolitical agreement

Formally known as the Timor Sea Treaty between the Government of East Timor and the Government of Australia was signed between Australia and East Timor in Dili, East Timor on 20 May 2002, the day East Timor attained its independence from United Nations rule, for joint petroleum exploration of the Timor Sea by the two countries. The signatories of the treaty were then Australian prime minister John Howard and his East Timorese counterpart at that time Mari Alkatiri.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Australia–Indonesia border</span> International maritime border between Australia and Indonesia

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea</span>

Officially called the Treaty between Australia and the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS), the treaty provides for the equal distribution of revenue derived from the disputed Greater Sunrise oil and gas field between Australia and East Timor. The field is located in the Timor Gap where Australia and East Timor have overlapping claims over the continental shelf or seabed. Prior to the treaty, East Timor would only have received about 18% of the revenue from the field.

This agreement is officially known as the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste relating to the Unitisation of the Sunrise and Troubadour Fields.

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) is a nonprofit US organization supporting human rights throughout Southeast Asia and Oceania. ETAN was founded in 1991 to support the right to self-determination of Timor-Leste. In 1999, that goal was significantly realized when the people of East Timor voted for independence. Since then ETAN has focused on building on its success in support of justice and self-determination in Timor-Leste and the surrounding region.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Australia–East Timor spying scandal</span>

The Australia–East Timor spying scandal began in 2004 when the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) clandestinely planted covert listening devices in a room adjacent to the East Timor (Timor-Leste) Prime Minister's Office at Dili, to obtain information in order to ensure Australia held the upper hand in negotiations with East Timor over the rich oil and gas fields in the Timor Gap. Even though the East Timor government was unaware of the espionage operation undertaken by Australia, negotiations were hostile. The first Prime Minister of East Timor, Mari Alkatiri, bluntly accused the Howard government of plundering the oil and gas in the Timor Sea, stating:

"Timor-Leste loses $1 million a day due to Australia's unlawful exploitation of resources in the disputed area. Timor-Leste cannot be deprived of its rights or territory because of a crime."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Exclusive economic zone of Australia</span>

Australia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was declared on 1 August 1994 and extends from 12 to 200 nautical miles from the coastline of Australia and its external territories, except where a maritime delimitation agreement exists with another state. To the 12 nautical-mile boundary is Australia's territorial waters. Australia has the third-largest exclusive economic zone, behind France and the United States but ahead of Russia, with the total area of 8,148,250 square kilometres (3,146,060 sq mi), which exceeds its land territory.

The borders of Indonesia include land and maritime borders with Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and Timor Leste, as well as shared maritime boundaries with Australia, India, Palau, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.


  1. Ward, Dr Christopher (July 11, 2014). "The Maritime Boundaries of East Timor: the Role of International Law" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-11-26.
  2. "The Timor Gap, Wonosobo and the Fate of Portuguese Timor", Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol.88, pt.1, June 2002, pp.75-103.
  3. Robert J. King, “The Timor Gap, 1972-2017”, March 2017. Submission No.27 to the inquiry by the Australian Parliament Joint Standing Committee on Treaties into Certain Maritime Arrangements - Timor-Leste. p.67.

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