Somali pirates marauding the East African coastline will now find it hard to hijack ships sailing along the Indian Ocean waters following a new agreement between Tanzania and Kenya to safeguard a greater area of the continental shelf.
The two neighbouring East African states are at the same time finalising joint regulations and procedures that will go to the depository at the United Nations to tame illegal trading and piracy. The move comes as plans to have the two states extend their nautical miles of the sea are expected to bear fruits soon.
Tanzania and Kenya have registered with the UN to extend their continental shelf, which would make it possible for the two states to tackle cases of piracy and illegal trade much more effectively.
Under the agreement, the two countries would be able to monitor the environment so that cases of dumping of waste or pesticides or any other chemicals that degrade the environment, would be kept in check.
However, similar agreements between Tanzania and the Comoros, Mauritius and Mozambique and Comoros have delayed to take off due to lack of resources to implement the agreements.
Kenya High Commissioner to Tanzania Mutinda Mutiso, told The EastAfrican that the memorandum of understanding between the two states has already been signed to enhance security and secure waters, while envisaging the enormous resources coming along with territorial extension sought by the two countries.
Mr Mutiso said that the area that previously covered the mandatory 200 nautical miles would now be extended by an extra 150 nautical miles giving the two states more leeway in terms of surveillance.
“The signing of the agreement between the two countries comes at a time when insurgencies in the territory are on the increase, with Somali pirates often seizing ships and demanding ransom,” he said.
In May this year, Somali pirates hijacked a ship carrying electric wires from Europe meant for a huge power project in Southern Tanzania.
The two East African countries are also pondering ways to have the Law of Sea changed to address the current situation, whereby countries like Somalia without a functional government still have the mandatory 200 nautical miles under their jurisdiction, thus making it difficult to pursue the pirates into the country’s waters.
Kenya has so far provided a place where pirates could be held and prosecuted although what should normally happen is for them to be tried in their own country or taken to the International Criminal Court at the Hague.
“Trying them in their own country is next to impossible, thus the increased area to be under our two countries’ surveillance decreases their operating area, which is currently notorious for piracy as well as illegal fishing or illegal trade in the high seas,” said Mr Mutiso.
The new agreement defines the maritime boundary from the limits of the territorial water as defined in the 1976 Maritime Boundary Agreement.
It also says that the basis of maritime boundary delimitation shall be parallel of latitude as established in the 1976 Maritime Boundary Agreement.
The two states met the May 13 deadline to apply to the UN for the extension of the territorial waters by 150 nautical miles, to the current 200 nautical miles of its Exclusive Economic Zone.
The extension would give the two states the right to explore and exploit living, non-living and mineral resources on the seabed and sub-soil of the extended continental shelf adjacent to the EEZ.
The potential resources of the extended continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles include petroleum and gas, iron-manganese nodules and crusts (manganese, copper, cobalt and nickel), polymetallic sulphides, and placer deposits.
Nations were allowed to enter preliminary data awaiting comprehensive submissions, if they lacked the resources to make full application. The submission, according to officials, cost Kenya Ksh700 million (about $9 million).
There have been several seizure of ship by Somali pirates in the Horn of Africa, some with relief food, oil or military equipment.
On March 8, 2009, Somali pirates captured their first US-flagged ship at some point between 240 and 400 nautical miles off the coast of that country’s Puntland region.
On January 9, five Somalian pirates drowned and their share of a $3-million US ransom was lost at sea. Three others in the boat, which sank during a storm on January 7, managed to reach shore after swimming for several hours.
The vessel overturned shortly after the pirates released the Sirius Star, a Saudi-owned oil tanker, following a two-month standoff in the Gulf of Aden.
The hijacked ship, Liberian-flagged, is owned by Vela International Marine Ltd., a subsidiary of Saudi oil company Aramco.
Dozens of pirates were involved in the November 15, 2008 hijacking of the oil-laden vessel.
The ransom was delivered by airdrop, parachuted close to the ship in a waterproof case for the pirates to collect. They were then allowed to make their escape.
The pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, which separates Somalia on the African continent from Yemen, is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.
A new international naval force under U.S. command began patrolling the area later to stem the growing problem of pirates.
In the past year alone, pirates from Somalia carried out 165 attacks. The French military reported that the number was up from 58 hijackings in 2007.