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Talks on creating Antarctic marine sanctuary break down

A group of countries set up to regulate fishing in the Antarctic has failed to agree to implement proposals to create marine sanctuaries in the region. Other delegates blamed Russia for objecting to the plans.

An extraordinary meeting of the Commission of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in the northern German town of Bremerhaven wrapped up on Tuesday without an agreement.

"The outcome is not what we expected or hoped for ... We did not reach a consensus," Terje Lobach, the Commission's chairperson, said.

Delegates at the conference in Bremerhaven looked at two proposals to create huge ocean sanctuaries off Antarctica.

The first, which was proposed by the United States and New Zealand, would have covered an area of 1.6 million square kilometers (640,000 square miles) of the Ross Sea, a deep bay on the Pacific side of the continent.

The other, supported by the European Union, France, and Australia, would have protected 1.9 million square kilometers on the Indian Ocean side.

However, the Russian delegation, supported by neighboring Ukraine, raised questions about the CCAMLR's legal power to implement any such proposal, according to environmental groups.

"The actions of the Russian delegation have put international cooperation and goodwill at risk, the two key ingredients needed for global marine conservation," Andrea Kavanagh, in charge of the Southern Ocean Sanctuaries campaign at the US green group Pew Environment, told the AFP news agency.

"After two years of preparation, including this meeting, which Russia requested to settle the scientific case for the Ross Sea and East Antarctic proposals, we leave with nothing," Steve Campbell, director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance of environmental groups, said.

Neither the Russian nor the Ukrainian delegations were immediately available for comment.

Hope for the future?

The head of the German delegation, Walter Dübner, expressed hope that an agreement could still be reached at a later date. He told the DPA news agency that as he broke off Tuesday's negotiations, he had called on the Russian delegation to come up with its own proposals.

"We should start to look for compromise solutions for the two proposals that are on the table," Dübner said.

A meeting in Hobart, Australia, last October also failed to reach an agreement, due to the objections of Russia, China and Ukraine. The next meeting is scheduled for this coming October in Hobart, by which time Dübner said he hoped the Commission will have been able to address Russia's legal concerns.

pfd/tj (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)