A row between Kenya and Somalia over their maritime border may deter multinational oil companies from exploring for oil and gas offshore east Africa, and a Somali official warned that the argument could escalate.
The two coastal nations disagree over the location of their boundary line in the Indian Ocean. At stake are their legal claims to sell rights for exploration and collect revenue from any discovery.
Kenya recently identified eight new offshore exploration blocks available for licensing, and all but one of them are located in the contested area.
“The issue between Somalia and Kenya is not a dispute; it is a territorial argument that came after oil and gas companies became interested in the region,” Abdullahi Haji, Somalia’s minister of foreign affairs, told Reuters in Mogadishu.
Consultants involved in border demarcation said the two countries won’t have a legitimate boundary until they sign a treaty that delimits the border, but that is unlikely to happen until Somalia has a stable government.
Heya says the maritime border between the two countries should run horizontally east from the point at which the two countries touch on land. The practice in east Africa has been for boundaries to run along the line of latitude, Heya said.
“For the time being, this is where we believe the border should be,” he said, referring to the horizontal east-west maritime border.
Somali officials say the onshore border continues into the ocean diagonally southeast and that a horizontal border would be unfair.
If the Somalia-Kenya border was continuous from land into the ocean, making it lie diagonally from the northwest to the southeast, Kenya would be left with a small triangle in the Indian Ocean over which it could claim mineral rights.