The Timor Sea (Indonesian: Laut Timor; Portugeuse: Mar Timor) is an arm of the Indian Ocean situated between the island of Timor, now split between the states of Indonesia and East Timor, and the Northern Territory of Australia. The waters to the east are known as the Arafura Sea, technically an arm of the Pacific Ocean. The Timor Sea has two substantial inlets on the north Australian coast, the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf and the Van Diemen Gulf. The Australian city of Darwin is the only large city to adjoin the sea.
The sea is about 480 km (300 miles) wide, covering an area of about 610,000 square km (235,000 square miles). Its deepest point is the Timor Trough in the northern part of the sea, which reaches a depth of 3,300 m (10,800 ft). The remainder of the sea is much shallower, with much of it averaging a depth of less than 200 m (650 ft). It is a major breeding ground for tropical storms and typhoons.
A number of significant islands are located in the sea, notably Melville Island off Australia and the Australian-governed Ashmore and Cartier Islands. It is thought that early humans reached Australia by "island-hopping" across the Timor Sea.
Beneath the Timor Sea lie considerable reserves of oil and gas. Australia and East Timor have had a lengthy dispute over exploitation rights in an area known as the Timor Gap. Australia's territorial claim extends to the bathymetric axis (the line of greatest sea-bed depth) at the Timor Trough. It overlaps East Timor's own territorial claim, which follows the former colonial power Portugal in claiming that the dividing line should be midway between the two countries.
East Timor's Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, has announced (on Friday 9 December, 2005) that a resource sharing agreement has been reached between East Timor and Australia...
The deal on how to share the Greater Sunrise gas field, worth an estimated $40 billion in Government 'royalties' is expected be signed on the 12th January 2006 in Sydney by the Foreign Affairs ministers of both countries, in the presence of both Prime Ministers
According to Alkatiri, the agreement is without prejudice to the positions and claims of both countries in respect of maritime boundaries.
"Timor-Leste has not compromised its legal claim and legal position in respect of the question of maritime boundaries. This agreement takes account of the essential interests of both Timor-Leste and Australia." Mr Alkatiri said.
The Timor Sea Justice Campaign claims the deal is an improvement on the current situation, but believes it still falls short of East Timor's likely entitlements under International Law.
Campaign coordinator, Tom Clarke, is pleased that the Australian Government has slowly shifted is position over the last two years due to the growing pressure from the Australian public and NGOs.
"The Australian Government has been told by the public to pull its head in, to acknowledge principles of current International Law, and to give East Timor a fair go. The Timor Sea Justice Campaign would like to thank everyone that has helped force the Howard Government to shift its position, " Mr Clarke said.
However, while the deal will be an improvement on current situation, the Timor Sea Justice Campaign claims the Australian Government's greed and self-interest has resulted in a short-sighted arrangement.
"This deal is really just a band-aid solution for one particular gas field. If more petroleum resources are discovered tomorrow, it will be back to square one. Only permanent maritime boundaries will provide legal certainty to both governments and commercial interests. The deal also fails to address the $2 billion that the Australian Government has unilaterally depleted from the contested Laminaria Corallina fileds since 1999." Mr Clarke said.
The campaign is continuing to call for Alexander Downer to 'finish the job'. It is urging the Australian Government to establish a permanent maritime boundary with East Timor along the median line, half way between the two countries.
"These issues of boundaries are integral to the process of self-determination and achieving true independence, so until the East Timorese enjoy just and fair borders, their struggle will continue and their many supporters in Australia will be here to help," Mr Clarke said.