MARITIME DISPUTE

ICJ gives Somalia most of maritime zone claimed by Kenya

The ICJ ruled there was "no agreed maritime boundary" and drew a new border close to the one claimed by Somalia

In Summary

• In its judgment delivered on Tuesday, the Hague-based court asked both parties to amicably solve the current dispute.

• The court rejected Kenya’s argument regarding the existing boundary with Somalia parallel to the latitude line.

Judge Joan Donoghue.
Judge Joan Donoghue.
Image: ICJ SCREEN GRAB

The International Court of Justice on Tuesday awarded Somalia control of most of a potentially oil- and a gas-rich chunk of the Indian Ocean after a  legal battle with Kenya over their sea border.

The ICJ ruled there was "no agreed maritime boundary" and drew a new border close to the one claimed by Somalia, although Kenya kept a part of the 100,000 square-kilometre (38,000-square-mile) area, chief judge Joan Donoghue said.

The Hague-based court asked both parties to amicably solve the current dispute.

The court unanimously ruled that the starting point of the single maritime boundary delimiting the respective maritime areas between Somalia and Kenya is the intersection of the straight line extending from the final permanent boundary beacon (PB 29) at right angles to the general direction of the coast with the low-water line, at the point with coordinates 1° 39' 44.0" S and 41° 33' 34.4" E (WGS 84).

The line that it constructs on this basis lies slightly to the north of the line proposed by Somalia (see
The line that it constructs on this basis lies slightly to the north of the line proposed by Somalia (see
Image: ICJ

It also ruled that from the starting point, the maritime boundary in the territorial sea follows the median line described until it reaches the 12-nautical-mile limit at the point with coordinates 1° 47' 39.1" S and 41° 43' 46.8" E (WGS 84) (Point A) of the provided judgment.

Ten judges against four agreed that from the end of the boundary in the territorial sea (Point A), the single maritime boundary delimiting the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf up to 200 nautical miles between Somalia and Kenya.

Nine judges against five agreed that from Point B, the maritime boundary delimiting the continental shelf continues along the same geodetic line until it reaches the outer limits of the continental shelf or the area where the rights of third States may be affected

The court unanimously rejected the claim made by Somalia in its final submission concerning the allegation that Kenya, by its conduct in the disputed area, had violated its international obligations

Kenya and Somalia have both been claiming the 100,000 square-kilometre zones in the Indian Ocean thought to be rich in oil and gas.

Kenya’s border currently runs horizontally into the Indian Ocean, and that is how Nairobi wants it to stay. But Somalia insists its southern boundary should run south-east as an extension of the land border.

Kenya first established this maritime boundary along the parallel of latitude by presidential proclamation in 1979.

How the case end up at the Hague

Somali, in its application, had requested the Court “to determine, on the basis of international law, the complete course of the single maritime boundary dividing all the maritime areas appertaining to Somalia and to Kenya in the Indian Ocean.

As the basis for the Court’s jurisdiction, the applicant invoked the provisions of Article 36, paragraph 2, of the Statute, and referred to the declarations recognizing the Court’s jurisdiction as compulsory made under those provisions by Somalia on 11 April 1963 and by Kenya on 19 April 1965.

Map showing disputed maritime area.
Map showing disputed maritime area.
Image: FILE

 On October 7, 2015, Kenya raised preliminary objections to the jurisdiction of the Court and the admissibility of the Application.

On February 2, 2017, the Court rendered its judgment on the preliminary objections raised by Kenya.

The Court rejected those objections, saying that it had the jurisdiction to entertain the Application filed by Somalia on August 28 2014 and that the Application [was] admissible”.

The public hearings on the merits of the case, initially scheduled to be held from 9 to 13 September 2019, were successively postponed to November 2019, June 2020, and March 2021, following requests for postponements made by Kenya.

The hearings were held in a hybrid format between 15 and 18 March 2021, with the participation of the delegation of Somalia. Kenya did not participate in the hearings.

In 2009, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding, certified by the United Nations, to negotiate their boundaries.

In 2014, Somalia decided to settle the matter at the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

In its application, Somalia said diplomatic negotiation had failed and it was now asking the court to "determine the precise geographical coordinates of the single maritime boundary in the Indian Ocean”.

Last Friday, Kenya said withdrew its membership from the ICJ, and declared it would not recognise Tuesday’s judgement.