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Oil deposits trigger boundary row between Kenya and Somalia

Monday September 19 2016

Visitors are taken on a tour of the oil rig at Ngamia 1 in Turkana County on April 5, 2012. Somalia wants its boundary adjusted to give Mogadishu a huge chunk of the sea, with significant oil deposits. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Visitors are taken on a tour of the oil rig at Ngamia 1 in Turkana County on April 5, 2012. Somalia wants its boundary adjusted to give Mogadishu a huge chunk of the sea, with significant oil deposits. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

AGGREY MUTAMBO
By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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ISAAC ONGIRI
By ISAAC ONGIRI
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The fate of six oil blocks in the Indian Ocean and the role of foreign governments will come to play this morning as Kenya and Somalia argue out their maritime boundary case before the International Court of Justice.

Somalia sued Kenya in 2014 asking for a proper determination of the sea border between the two countries.

But it is the amount of oil deposits thought to be in the disputed area that could influence the court fight in the coming four days.

Today, Kenya will open its preliminary objections to the case, fronting international lawyers: Britons Vaughan Lowe QC and Prof Alan Boyle, Ms Amy Sanders and Mr Karim Khan QC as well as Prof Mathias Forteau from France.

Somalia has lined up American lawyer Paul Reichler and Prof Allain Pellet (French).

But a foreign Arab state is said to be fuelling the dispute further due to the anticipated oil deposits in the disputed area.

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The Middle East country is said to have been working a top government official to obtain vital documents that could be used against Kenya in the case.

The matter started in July 2014 when then Somali Foreign minister Abdirahman Dualeh Beileh sought to challenge Kenya’s position that the maritime boundary should remain as it is and that disputes be solved through negotiations, rather than litigation.

“We believe our case will be understood. It has always been our interest that this case is resolved through diplomatic channels,” said Attorney-General Githu Muigai, in a statement.

Somalia wants its boundary adjusted to give Mogadishu a huge chunk of the sea, with significant oil deposits.

Preliminary court filings indicate how oil and fish thought to be in the area fuelled the case.

“Kenya has acted unilaterally on the basis of its purported parallel boundary with Somalia, including in the territorial sea, to exploit both living and non-living resources on Somalia’s side of a provisionally drawn equidistant line,” the Somali official argues in a document filed to the Court.

“It has, for example, offered a number of petroleum exploration blocks that extend up to the northern limit of the parallel boundary it claims.”

BOUNDARY
At the centre of the tiff are six oil blocks: L-21, L-23, L-24, L-25 and L-5, which Somalia argues Kenya has awarded contracts to foreign prospecting firms even though they “lie entirely or predominantly on the Somali side".

These firms include Italian firm Eni SPA - which in 2012 was awarded L-21, L-23 and L24.

Block L-22 went to French firm Total while American company Anadarko Petroleum Corp was given L-5, according to submissions to the court.

Somalia is asking the ICJ to "complete course of the single maritime boundary dividing all the maritime areas appertaining to Somalia and to Kenya in the Indian Ocean, including the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles".

Somalia is basing its arguments on Articles 15, 74 and 83 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both countries ratified in 1989.

The cited articles state that where two states share coasts adjacent or opposite each other, neither state should extend territorial boundaries beyond the median line “every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two states is measured”, except where there is an agreement to do so.

In Kenya’s situation, it means Somalia wants the boundary to extend diagonally to the south at Kiunga into the sea, and not eastwards as it is today.

But that may also affect Kenya’s sea border with Tanzania.

The area in contest is about 100,000 square kilometres, forming a triangle east of the Kenya coast.

In 2009, Kenya and Somalia reached an MoU, which was then deposited to the UN in 2011.

The agreement had stated that the border would run east along the line of latitude, although further negotiations were to be held through the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

MoU
This agreement also stated that maritime boundary adjustments would only occur after the commission had established the outer limits of shelf and that both sides would avoid courts as much as possible over the matter.

Kenya accuses Somalia of reneging on the MoU, but the man who signed that MoU for Somalia says the government’s hands were tied when Parliament rejected it.

“We had agreed to solve the problem with Kenya amicably through a bilateral agreement. But the Somali Parliament at the time rejected it and the Somali government.

“I don’t see any possibility that the case can come back to a bilateral agreement. We have to go through the process, we have to weigh the result of the Court, and we have to trust the international jurisdiction,” Abdirahman Warsame, the former Planning Minister and who is contesting for Presidency told the Nation.

The Court is only handling preliminary objections from Kenya and a response from Somalia this week. But Kenya might want to know that ICJ decisions are normally binding and final.