With the Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute set for hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague from September 9 to 13, many citizens of either nation are apprehensive and hopeful that the ruling will go their way.

“What is the most likely outcome of the case?” must be a leading question in many people’s minds.

The two countries are locked up in a diplomatic feud over a triangular piece of the Indian Ocean covering 100, 000 square kilometres.

Such face-offs and their resolutions date back centuries. On July 7, 1494, Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas to end the conflict over newly discovered lands. The treaty defined a straight line of demarcation from pole to pole measured at 515 kilometres from Cape Verde island going through Brasil and separating the two hemispheres of the world. Areas to the East would belong to Portugal and to the West to Spain.

As the two forefront maritime powers of the 15th century, they created one of the first ocean boundaries for purposes of resource exploitation.

In the 21st century, newly formed coastal countries seek to exploit the riches of the sea, and this desire has resulted in 180 resolved disputes and 400 potential disputes, according to Chatham House, an independent think tank on international affairs.

A line of contention

In the case before ICJ, Somalia argues that the maritime boundary should be an extension of the land border running south-east into the ocean while Kenya favours the parallel line to the latitude from its territorial border with Somalia. The two interpretations of the maritime boundary created a triangular area of approximately 100,000 square kilometres, which is currently in dispute.

In the days of yore, galleons and battleships settled maritime boundary feuds but today the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea defines the rights and responsibilities of nations concerning the use of world's oceans. Somalia has therefore registered their predicament at the ICJ for arbitration on the boundary matter.

Somalia, submitted to the United Nations its claim to marine areas. In 1972. Although Somalia ratified the UN's Laws of the Sea, the documentation did not explicitly define the boundaries hence leaving it to both equidistance and equitable interpretation. Subsequent legislation and proclamations omitted the delimitation points of the maritime border. Then on June 30, 2014, a Presidential decree from the Federal Republic of Somalia defined the coordinates of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which crossed into Kenya's claimed zone.

Kenya, on the other hand, submitted to the United Nations its maritime border in February 28, 1979. The Presidential proclamation reads, “In respect of the boundary of its northern territorial waters with the Somali Republic be on Eastern latitude South of Diua Damasciaca Island being latitude 1° 38' South." The Southern border with Tanzania follows a similar parallel line to the latitude. The proclamation reads, “In respect of the boundary of its southern territorial waters with the United Republic of Tanzania be an Eastern latitude north of Pemba island to start at a point obtained by the northern intersection of two arcs, one from the Kenya Lighthouse at Mpunguti ya Juu, and the other from Pemba island Lighthouse at Ras Kigomasha."

The map at the top of the page shows Kenya's claim to the Indian Ocean.

Of the 3,300 kilometres Somalia coastline, it is the Juba-Lamu Basin which extends southwards into Kenya that has the thickest source rocks making it the area with the highest potential for oil, hence the high interest by both countries.

Who is right?

To ascertain which country has the rightful claim to the disputed area, we look into the laws upon which their claim rests.

Page 1 of 2