Africa’s Boundary Rows Delay Offshore Projects

October 31, 2019

The International Court of Justice has delayed to early November the hearing of the maritime border dispute between Kenya and Somalia and hence delaying further the earlier approved offshore oil and gas exploration activities by both countries.

The case was listed for public hearing on September 9 to 14 but Kenya sought for a delay as it explored resolving the issue through diplomatic channels, that have either failed previously or ignored as the dispute escalated.

“The hearings in this case have been rescheduled further to the request made by the Republic of Kenya on 3 September 2019 and taking into account the views expressed by the Federal Republic of Somalia on that request,” said ICJ in a statement late last month.

The trigger for the maritime boundary row resembles previous disputes especially in West Africa, the sub-region with the highest number of unresolved maritime boundary conflicts.

It all starts with the launch of offshore oil and gas pre-exploration and exploration activities such as acquiring seismic data, auctioning of blocks or successful drilling for hydrocarbons in a disputed boundary area as it happened with Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

Hostility between these two West African countries intensified with the discovery of Dzata-1 deepwater well by Vanco Ghana Ltd in partnership with LUKOIL Overseas Ghana Ltd. and Ghana National Petroleum Corporation.

The well situated in water depths of 1878 meters, which was drilled 75 kilometers south of the Cape Three Points Deep block offshore Ghana in 2010 is said to have stumbled on substantial hydrocarbon “accumulation based on the results of drilling, wireline logs and samples of reservoir fluid.”

But Cote d’Ivoire protested the oil exploration activities by Ghana claiming it was violating the maritime boundary. The ICJ later asked Ghana to ensure “no new drilling either by Ghana or under its control takes place in the disputed ,area” until the matter was determined.

In addition, Ghana was also restrained from taking “all necessary steps to prevent information resulting from past, ongoing or future exploration activities conducted by Ghana, or with its authorization, in the disputed area that is not already in the public domain from being used in any way whatsoever to the detriment of Côte d’Ivoire.”

Back in East Africa, Somalia had in February this year held the Offshore Somalia Oil and Gas Conference in London, UK where the government outlined the likelihood of oil and gas discoveries offshore its coast based on previous knowledge gleaned from “scientific papers, expert findings and the analysis of seismic imaging results.”

The forum was a build up to Somalia’s licensing round this year and came soon after multi-client seismic services company, Spectrum, completed acquisition and processing of 20,185 kilometers of 2D long-offset seismic data. Previously in 2014 Somalia had completed acquisition of 20,500 kilometers of existing seismic data acquired in 2014.

This triggered accusations from Kenya that accused Somalia of making a “regretful and egregious decision to auction off oil and gas blocks in Kenya’s maritime territorial area that borders Somalia.”

Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Somalia of at the incorrectly displaying and characterizing the Kenyan maritime territory during the London auction and demanded for the withdrawal of the incorrect map “and a cessation of the auction of the oil and gas blocks in Kenya’s territory.”

During the previous maritime boundary dispute talks, Kenya announced it had “voluntarily suspended its transitory exploratory activities in the disputed area as an expression of its good faith.”

Kenya and Somalia wrangling aside, Ghana is still in conflict with neighboring Togo over a disputed maritime boundary although both countries seem to have agreed on how to proceed to achieve drawing of the demarcation line separating the two.

“The underlying principle is to derive an equitable outcome that is grounded on international law utilizing all the established principles governing matters of this nature,” Ghana’s Minister Yaw Osafo-Maafo was quoted by media saying recently.

Meanwhile, Tanzania and Malawi are yet to conclude talks on their precise national boundaries on Lake Malawi or Lake Nyasa, with the largest portion of the lake being in Malawi and portions lying in Mozambique and Tanzania.

The row intensified in 2012 when Malawi awarded exclusive oil prospecting licenses in the lake to two foreign companies.

Previously Senegal and Guinea Bissau had agreed to resolve their maritime boundary dispute amicably without seeking international intervention, which not only takes time but is also expensive and tends to fuel hostility.

In fact, the Commonwealth has in a previous statement warned the “uncertainty over boundaries and entitlements can lead to conflict over access to resources, stifle investment and hinder the development of alternative energy sources.”

Quick resolution of raging maritime border disputes is the best way for Africa if it is to gainfully exploit the huge potential of its offshore oil and gas resource.

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