By Malkhadir Muhumed
Source: Standard Media – Kenya
Somalia: Somalia has turned down request from Kenya to re-open talks to demarcate maritime boundaries.
This is the second time the issue is raising diplomatic rift between the two neighbours.
The decision by Somalia’s Cabinet has the potential of discouraging oil companies from conducting offshore oil and gas explorations in contested waters. Some of the offshore exploration blocks that have been identified in the area include Block L5.
In 2009, former Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetangula and then Somalia Minister for International Cooperation Abdirahman Warsame signed a demarcation agreement. But the agreement ignited a heated debate about its legality among lawmakers in Somalia, who finally threw it out.
On May 31, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed raised the issue with her Somali counterpart Fauzia Yusuf Adam in the hope of winning approval of the current, internationally recognised government.
According to a joint statement signed by Mohamed and Adam, “the two ministers underlined the need to work on a framework of modalities for embarking on maritime demarcation.”
“The ministers reviewed previous agreements and Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) signed between Kenya and Somalia, and their level of implementation,” the press release said.
In an interview with the BBC Somali Service last week, however, Ms Adam denied Somalia had signed any agreement on maritime demarcation with Kenya.
“They requested if talks can be reopened on this issue but I declined,” she said, noting that she told Kenya the issue will remain as rejected by Somalia parliament in 2009.
Somalia’s Foreign Affairs ministry failed to provide answers even after The Standard sent a list of questions through its communication division.
The maritime border issue raised a lot of outcry in Somalia in 2009 after it emerged that the country has ceded land to Kenya. Somali language satellite TV stations, websites and radio stations have cast aspersions on the new understanding, accusing the current government of trying to dust up a failed agreement. The government finally gave in.
“Federal Government of Somalia does not consider it appropriate to open new discussions on maritime demarcation or limitations on the continental shelf with any parties,” said the statement from the office of Premier Abdi Farah Shirdon
Many Somalis saw Kenya’s decision to venture into Somalia in October 2011 as informed by desire to secure the mainland that borders the waters between the countries believed to be rich of yet to be explored oil reserves.
Somalia has tried to downplay any row over the issue.
The Cabinet statement said: “The government is committed to strong bilateral relations with Kenya and looks forward to working with the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta on a number of issues, including the safe repatriation of Somali refugees in Kenya and improving border security for the benefit of both countries.”
Many Somalis objected to some words in the 2009 MoU, such as “the claims of the two coastal States cover an overlapping area of the continental shelf, which constitutes the area under dispute”.
They argued that Kenya has started explorations in its territorial waters, fears Mogadishu tried to allay in its Thursday statement that was arrived at after the country’s council of ministers met.
“The government’s position is Somali Law No 37 on the Territorial Sea and Ports, signed on September 10, 1972, which defines Somali territorial sea as 200 nautical miles and continental shelf,” said the statement.
Somalia ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on July 24, 1989, the statement said.
The Somali government also said it supports an August 1, 2009 parliamentary decision that rendered “null and void” a MoU signed on April 7, 2009 between Warsame and Wetangula.
The UN stated on March 12, 2010 that the 2009 MoU was to be considered “non-actionable” because it had been rejected by the Somali parliament, said the statement.
The MoU, which was obtained by The Standard, reads in part: “While the two coastal States have differing interests regarding the delimitation of the continental shelf in the area under dispute, they have a strong common interest with respect to the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, without prejudice to the future delimitation of the continental shelf between them.”
It went on: “On this basis, the two coastal States are determined to work together to safeguard and promote their interest with respect to the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.”
Although the demarcation issue did not draw much attention locally, it has been a big national issue for Somalia.
Nairobi was afraid that if the maritime issue is not solved properly and in time, it could threaten Kenya’s right to license exploration blocks and revenue collection after oil discovery in contested areas.
In 2010, according to the Commonwealth website, its secretariat’s maritime boundary specialists held a workshop for government officials to prepare the country for its maritime boundary negotiations with Somalia because “establishing clear maritime boundaries will have important implications for security, shipping, environmental protection, fishing and offshore resource exploration in the region.”