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Territorial Sea and Waters


(See Somaliland’s Declaration of its EEZ and a map of the various Somaliland seas at the bottom of this page)

Article 2 of the Somaliland Constitution states that:

    “1.  The territory of the Republic of Somaliland covers the same area as that of the former Somaliland Protectorate and is located between Latitude 8 to 11 30’ north of the equator and Longitude 42 45’ to 49 East; and consists of the land, islands, and territorial waters, above and below the surface, the airspace and the continental shelf.

    2.  The Republic of Somaliland is bordered by the Gulf of Aden to the north; Somalia to the east; the Federal Republic of Ethiopia to the south and the west; and the Republic of Djibouti to the north west.

    3.  The territory of the nation is inviolable, and shall not be trespassed upon.”

The land boundaries of Somaliland have all been delineated in international agreements as they coterminous with those of the short lived independent State of Somaliland which was the successor state of the British Somaliland Protectorate from 26 June 1960 to 1 July 1960 when it formed a union with Somalia. (See below for the Map of Somaliland)

The Somaliland Coastline extends from just east of Loyade (at 43 15’ 45” E) on the Djibouti border to just east of Elayo ( at 48 53’ E) on the border with Somalia (which mostly runs at 49 E).  the distance is 530 miles and the main islands off the coast are Mait Island in the east and the Sadadin and Aibat Islands in the west.

The Somaliland coast is entirely on the Gulf of Aden and thereby runs opposite the Yemen coast. Although the distances between various Somaliland coastal points and their opposite points in the Yemen vary,  the distance between Berbera, the main port of Somaliland and Aden in the Yemen is only 140 nautical miles. Even at its farthest at the boundary between Somaliland and Somalia, the opposite Yemen coasts are less than 180 nautical miles (which is the distance between the Yemen port of Al Mukala and the Somalia port of Bosaso which is situated not that far from the Somaliland boundary).  This geographical proximity between the Somaliland and Yemen coasts means that the 200 nautical miles territorial sea set by Article 1 of the Somali Democratic Republic 1972 Territorial Sea and Ports Law (Law No. 37 of 10 September 1972)  was never practically applicable to the Somaliland coasts, but was meant for the  Indian Ocean Somalian coasts. That Law, in any case,  preceded the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was signed  by the Somali Democratic Republic on 10 December 1982 and ratified under  Law No. 14 of 9 February 1989 (with the the formal notification of ratification made to the UN on  on 24 July 1989).

UPDATE February 2017: It is also clear now that the then Somali Democratic Government promulgated a new Somali Maritime Law (Law No 5 of 26 January 1989) which is in accord with UNCLOS and which repeals both the 1959 Maritime Code and any other law inconsistent with its provisions. . Explanatory notes and copies of this Law are now available webpage on Somaliland Maritime Laws. 

Update: September 2014: (This update is also noted in the Somaliland Maritime Law webpage)

In a meeting on 18 March 2013  of the “Somali Contact Group on Counter Piracy” (The Kampala Process) which brings together representatives of the FG of Somalia, Puntland, Galmudug and the Somaliland Republic a draft Communique No 2 on the Legal Issues of the Maritime Strategy was issued. This included the following paragraphs on maritime jurisdiction:

    5. Many existing Somali maritime laws relate to the Law of the Sea Convention 1982. There is some uncertainty as to the consequences of Presidential Decree Number 14 of 9th February 1989 upon the Law of 1972. There is some uncertainty as to whether the 1988 Law of the Somali Sea is in force. However, we have determined that:

      a. In 1989 Somalia ratified the Law of the Sea Convention 1982;

      b. That the law drafted in 1988 was in line with our commitment, indicated by Somalia signing and ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention 1982, to bring our law into coherence with the Convention; and

      c. That the Official Somali Bulletin of 1989 (for example pages 85 and 90) confirms that the Law of the Sea Convention 1982 was effective in Somali Law as of the date of that Bulletin.

    6. We will seek to confirm the status of these laws with our Parliaments. However, now that there is significant clarity regarding the Somali maritime domain, we call upon international naval forces, in accordance with relevant UNSC resolutions, to assist in the protection of our maritime domain.

    7. We have also determined, as technical experts, that we must progress our work on a number of related jurisdictional issues. We are resolved to co-operate in defining our maritime  domain. We will seek to ensure that the jurisdictional reach of our Courts and our Maritime Police / Coast Guard are properly considered as a component of Somali law reform activities.”

    ( EDITOR:  I have added to this extract the links to   the documents referred to in this quoted section )

The  Somali Maritime Resource & Security Strategy (Final) September 2013 was agreed upon by a working group consisting of delegates from  Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug & the SFG under the Kampala Process. [The document is also available at the Oceans beyond Piracy website].

Somalia’s EEZ Proclamation June 2014: In this Proclamation dated 30 June 2014, the President of Somalia, having  confirmed the Somali Republic’s ratification of UNCLOS  and the adoption of a  new Somalia Maritime Law in 1989, proclaimed the EEZ of Somalia as 200 nautical miles.

In its application to the International Court of Justice in a maritime boundary dispute case against Kenya instituted on 28 August 2014, Somalia stated  the following in relation to the 1988/9 Somali Maritime Law:

    “ 7. In anticipation of its July 1989 ratification of UNCLOS, the President of Somalia issued Law No. 5 dated 26 January 1989 approving the Somali Maritime Law of 1988. Among other things, the 1988 Somali Maritime Law provided that the breadth of the territorial sea would be 12M, claimed a 200M EEZ and stated the continental shelf of Somalia extends throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin. Law No. 5 further repealed any prior laws inconsistent with the Maritime Law of 1988.

    8. On 9 February 1989, Somalia further enacted Law No. 11 adopting UNCLOS and incorporating the Convention’s provisions into internal law. The same date, Presidential Decree No. 14 was promulgated, entering Law No. 11 into effect.

    9. On 30 June 2014, in conformity with UNCLOS, the President of Somalia issued a Proclamation claiming an EEZ extending to 200M from normal baselines. The same day, Somalia deposited with the United Nations Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the sea a list of co-ordinates defining the outer limits of its EEZ”.

The EEZ outer limits co-ordinates submitted by Somalia the UN on 30 June 2014 are available at this UNCLOS Webpage relating to Somalia.

The Somaliland Republic’s  Formal Protest to the UN about Somalia’s EEZ Proclamation purporting to include Somaliland Seas: Somaliland has long ago accepted that UNCLOS was ratified by and was part of the laws of the pre 1991 Somali Republic, and has stated so, for example, in its 1995 Fisheries Law. However, having noted that  the EEZ outer limits co-ordinates submitted by Somalia to the UN  purported to cover the Somaliland sea (in the Gulf of Aden), the Somaliland Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged, on 23 July 2014, a formal protest with the UN Secretary-General against Somalia’s  declaration of an Exclusive Economic Zone, which it sees as a violation of Somaliland’s sovereignty.  A Ministry  Press Release dated 7 August 2014 stated,  that  Somaliland confirmed in its formal protest that it ‘emphatically rejects, opposes and will not recognise these declarations by the Republic of Somalia to the extent that they purport to include or affect the waters, continental shelf and other maritime entitlements of the Republic of Somaliland’ and that

    ‘The Republic of Somaliland remains supportive of all efforts to improve regional co-ordination and promote economic development in the Horn of Africa. However, Somaliland’s co-operation and contributions to such efforts have always been on the understanding that Somaliland will continue to exercise sovereignty and sovereign rights with respect to the waters and continental shelf adjacent to the Republic of Somaliland's territory in accordance with international law. Somalia cannot and does not exercise jurisdiction or physical control over the waters and continental shelf off the coast of Somaliland.’

2012 posting: Taking note of Somaliland’s  geographical considerations, the Somaliland Fishery Law 1995 indicates in Article 2 that the territorial limits of the Republic will be 12 nautical miles and that Exclusive Economic Zone will be delineated between Somaliland and the Yemen and, in reality is likely to be extend from the coast to 100 nautical miles at its widest and 30 miles at its narrowest. The new Somaliland Law dealing with the Somaliland maritime boundaries  (territorial sea, Contiguous Zone  and the Exclusive Economic Zone) is more likely to mirror the relevant territorial sea and C&EE Zones laws of Yemen and Djibouti and is likely to set the following  limits of:

  • 12 nautical miles for the territorial sea;
  • 24 nautical miles  for the contiguous Zone; and
  • pending delimitation 200 nautical miles for the Exclusive Economic Zone (and fishing zone) which with delimitation will, as stated above be considerably less when delimited between Somaliland and Yemen which also claims a 200 nautical mile for its Exclusive Economic Zone .

In an interview with the Yemen Times (13 March 2012), the Yemeni First Deputy Minister of Fishery Wealth, Mr Abdullah Ba-Sonbol, stated that their 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone:

“...  applies in the Arabian Sea except in the case of borders with Somalia where the smaller distance is divided between the two sides according to the International Law of the Sea. Yemen intends now to demarcate maritime borders with Somalia in accordance with the International Law and the only obstruction here is the lack of a central Somali government with which we can deal or agree.”

The maritime boundary delimitation with Djibouti, and especially on the tripoint between the three countries ,  is also still outstanding.

In view of the illegal fishing in Somaliland water, Somaliland does and will guard, to the best of its resources, its Territorial sea, Contiguous zone  and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which, pending the conclusion of delimitation agreements, shall not extend beyond a median  line between Somaliland and Yemen or beyond  a line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines form which the breadth of the territorial sea of Somaliland and that of Yemen are measured. Fishing shall therefore be subject to authorisation from Somaliland authorities up to these median or equidistant  lines of the Exclusive Economic Zone which, as already mentioned in Article 2B of the 1995 Somaliland Fishery Law,  “shall by law extend from the coast to 100 nautical miles at its widest and 30 miles at its narrowest”.

September 2014: As indicated in the Somaliland Foreign Ministry PR and Protest Note to the UN (see above), Somaliland shall make decisions about its own seas and shall, in due course, reach delimitation agreements with The Republic of Djibouti, Yemen and Somalia.  The list of geographical co-ordinates of points specifying ‘geodetic data’ which Somalia has submitted to the UN (under Article 16(2),  and Article 75(2) of UNCLOS), which appear to have been prepared with the help of the Norwegian Government and publicised in the UN General Secretary Maritime Zone Notification of 3 July 2014 (and reproduced here) are not considered by Somaliland to be binding, in relation to its seas, but will of course  be considered carefully by Somaliland.  The geographical co-ordinates which are set out in this Outer limits of the EEZ document cover 2468 points of which roughly 111 points are in the Somaliland sea between longitude 49E (on the border with Somalia) to longitude 43  15min 31.6sec - 43.258778 Decimal longitude (on the border with the Republic of Djibouti).  The geographical co-ordinates of the EEZ outer limits are described as Median points in roughly 68 of these points which are mainly along the Gulf of Aden between Somaliland and Yemen and the remaining 43 points west of longitude 44 4min 28 sec (or 44.143206 Decimal longitude) are described as equidistant points. The tripoint between Djibouti, Yemen and Somaliland shall have to be settled on delimitation. This will involve, for example, consideration of Djibouti’s declared statutory straight baseline for calculation of its territorial sea and EEZ which has already been questioned by the United States in this US State Department Study on Djibouti (& Oman) Straight Baselines, as well as other issues of concern between the three countries. The publication of the  relevant Notifications by Djibouti and Yemen will clarify the scope for potential agreement/disagreement. Yemen’s (so far) stated objections to Somalia’s declared EEZ outer limits do not concern the Somaliland seas.

 Somaliland Coast

Somaliland Map 1956

UPDATE: 06/02/2017: Following the Republic of Somaliland’s objections to and formal protests to UN (in July 2014)  about Somalia’s June 2014 EEZ Proclamation which purported to include Somaliland’s seas [see above], the Somaliland Government sent a note to the UN declaring formally Somaliland’s own EEZ: Presidential Letter Dated 21 January 2017. The Declaration included a map illustrating the various Somaliland Seas and continental shelf and the maritime boundaries with the neighbouring countries  of Somalia to the east, Yemen to the North and the Republic of Djibouti to the South. We have reproduced (in pdf) here Illustration of the Somaliland Maritime Zones and Boundaries.


SOMALILAND COAST GUARD "The Somaliland Coast Guard provides a safe, secure coastline and contribute towards a sustainable maritime environment, by operating 24 hours a day  along the entire coastline of Somaliland to legally enforce Somaliland sovereignty, establish  effective maritime domain awareness, counter maritime crime and ensure the safety, security and economic wellbeing of Somaliland and international  maritime communities " - Somaliland Coast Guard Functions:

  • Maritime Safety, including Vessel Traffic Management
  • Maritime Security
  • Maritime Customs activities
  • The prevention and suppression of Trafficking and Smuggling and connected Maritime -  Law Enforcement
  • Maritime Border Control
  • Maritime Surveillance
  • Maritime Environmental Protection and Response
  • Search and Rescue (SAR)
  • Accident and Disaster Response
  • Fisheries Control
  • Maritime Situational Awareness (MSA)
  • Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)
  • Maritime Zones
  • Harbours

The Somaliland Coastguard Force Law - Law No. 85/2018 has come into force on its gazetting on 5 January 2019.

 - The Law, as gazetted in Somali: Xeerka Ciidanka Ilaalada Xeebaha Somaliland Xeer Lr. 85/2018

- Copies of the Law with arrangements of the Articles and few annotations is available here: Somaliland Coastguard Law No. 85/2018 (in Somali). The Arrangements of the  Law in Som/Eng.

 An English language copy of the Law will be posted here asap. The earlier draft of this Law envisaged a ‘civilian’ law enforcement status for both the Coastguard and the Police Force but sadly, in both cases, it appears that pre 1991 ‘military nature’ of all policing, prisons and other non-military forces (which was not the case in Somaliland before the union with Somalia) appears be re-emphasised in recent laws. We shall be commenting on this far reaching issue which raises both constitutional and policy issues in a nation that rid itself of the military dictatorship but has not yet fully updated its laws in line with the sentiments set out in Article 130(5) of the Somaliland Constitution - the replacement of pre 1991 laws with laws that accord with the democratic and human rights principles of the new Constitution. 



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