In recent years, the Federal Government of Somalia has made significant progress toward defining its maritime boundaries. It first declared its territorial sea boundary out to 200 nautical miles (NM) in 1972. In 1989, Somalia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which contains guidelines for claiming territorial waters out to 12 NM from shore and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) out to 200 NM or the median line between two countries’ coastlines. Following civil unrest in the 1990s and 2000s, the Federal Government of Somalia officially declared its EEZ in 2014, continuing the process that began decades earlier. This claim was contested by Kenya and Yemen, with the southern border controversy reaching the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In October, 2021, the ICJ determined the line delimiting the maritime areas of both countries as shown in Project Badweyn. The objection to the Somali EEZ by Yemen is not yet resolved.
In addition to declaring their EEZ in 2014, the Federal Government of Somalia extended their territorial waters from 12 to 24 NM in their revised Somali Fisheries Law to expand the area reserved for Somali fishers. The law states:
"The protection zone that protects coastal fishermen and in which fishing vessels are not permitted to enter is up to 24 nautical miles. Only coastal fishermen are allowed to fish within 24 nautical miles."
This protection of coastal fishing grounds is beneficial to communities that rely on fishing. Though it is clear that the nearshore areas are reserved for Somali fishers by federal law, foreign vessels are known to fish within the EEZ and even within territorial waters. The designation of boundaries does not prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, but it gives Somalis legal tools to combat IUU fishing and hold illicit vessels accountable for their actions.
The confusion over who has access rights to fish within 24 NM from shore has resulted in competition for the fisheries in that zone. Clashes on the water between Somali artisanal fishers and foreign commercial fishers have resulted in conflicts including gear destruction and violence. A revised version of the federal fishing law that harmonizes the existing federal and state laws could go a long way toward alleviating this conflict.
Data Attribution and License Information
Data visualizations and written content by Paige M. Roberts.
Data for Claimed Territorial Sea (1972-2014) obtained from Claus S., N. De Hauwere, B. Vanhoorne, F. Souza Dias, P. Oset García, F. Hernandez, and J. Mees (Flanders Marine Institute) (2017). http://www.marineregions.org. See website for data download and license information.
Data for Declared EEZ (2014) and Declared EEZ Contested Areas obtained from United Nations, http://www.un.org/depts/los/LEGISLATIONANDTREATIES/STATEFILES/SOM.htm
The line of maritime delimitation between Somalia and Kenya was derived from coordinates in ruling by the International Court of Justice. Maritime Delimitation in the Indian Ocean (Somalia v. Kenya) judgement, 12 October 2021. https://www.icj-cij.org/en/case/161.
Shoreline data to create 24 NM Territorial Sea obtained from Wessel, P., and W. H. F. Smith, A Global Self-consistent, Hierarchical, High-resolution Geography Database. SOEST, University of Hawai’i, Honolulu, HI. http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/wessel/gshhg/. See website for data download and license information.
Federal Republic of Somalia Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. “A Review of the Somali Fisheries Law (Law No. 23 of November 30, 1985), in accordance with Article 79, Paragraph (d) of the Federal Constitution of Somalia.”
Federal Republic of Somalia Office of the President. “Proclamation by the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia, dated 30 June 2014.” http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/som158857.pdf.
The President of the Supreme Revolutionary Council. Law No. 37. Law on the Somali Territorial Sea and Ports. September 10, 1972. http://www.un.org/depts/los/LEGISLATIONANDTREATIES/PDFFILES/SOM_1972_Law.pdf
United Nations Oceans & Law of the Sea. “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982.” Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. Accessed August 8, 2017. http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_overview_convention.htm.