The International Court of Justice leaned closer to Somalia’s claim of a straight line into the Indian Ocean from their border, rejecting Kenya’s claim in a case affecting a territory potentially rich in oil and gas.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) announces decision taken in the case of the maritime border dispute between Kenya and Somalia at The Hague, Netherlands on October 12, 2021.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) announces decision taken in the case of the maritime border dispute between Kenya and Somalia at The Hague, Netherlands on October 12, 2021. (AA)

The UN's top court has awarded Somalia control of most of a potentially oil- and gas-rich chunk of the Indian Ocean after a bitter legal battle with neighbouring Kenya over their sea border.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on Tuesday 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 sq km (38,000-square mile) area, chief judge Joan Donoghue said.

The ruling is legally binding, though the court has no enforcement powers. 

Kenya last week said it would not recognise the court's judgment, alleging that the judicial process had “obvious and inherent bias.”

Its statement acknowledged that the judgment would have “profound security, political, social and economic ramifications in the region and beyond,” while urging Kenyans to remain calm.

READ MORE: Kenya says will not accept ICJ ruling on maritime dispute with Somalia

An oil and gas bonanza is believed to lie beneath the disputed 100,000-sq km (38,000-square mile) swathe of ocean. (AFP)
An oil and gas bonanza is believed to lie beneath the disputed 100,000-sq km (38,000-square mile) swathe of ocean. (AFP) (AFP)

ICJ draws new borders

The court rejected Kenya’s claim of the maritime boundary it sought, saying Kenya had not consistently maintained it. The court instead leaned closer to Somalia’s claim of a straight line into the Indian Ocean from their border.

But the court rejected Somalia’s pursuit of reparations after the country alleged that some of Kenya’s maritime activities had violated its sovereignty.

Somalia filed the ICJ case over the countries’ maritime boundary in 2014, contributing to their strained relations.

A full bench of 15 judges led by Donoghue handed down the verdict at the Peace Palace in The Hague on Tuesday.

The court noted that it “cannot ignore the context of the civil war” that destabilised Somalia for years and limited its government functions.

It also found “no compelling evidence that Somalia has acquiesced” to Kenya’s claim of a maritime boundary along a parallel line of latitude.

READ MORE: Is Kenya waging war on Somalia’s economic lifeline?

Years of border dispute

Kenya says it has exercised sovereignty over the area since 1979, when it proclaimed the limits of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – a maritime territory extending up to 200 nautical miles offshore where a state has the right to exploit resources.

Nairobi has already granted exploration permits to Italian energy giant ENI but Somalia is contesting the move.

Established after World War II, the ICJ rules in disputes between UN member states. Its decisions are binding and cannot be appealed.

Kenya unsuccessfully argued that the court did not have competence over the case, and in March did not attend hearings, citing difficulties arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

Just over two weeks ago, Nairobi notified the UN secretary general that it was withdrawing its 1965 declaration accepting the ICJ's compulsory jurisdiction.

READ MORE: Kenya’s carrot-and-stick approach to Somalia will not work

Source: TRTWorld and agencies