For the third time in as many months, the International Court of Justice at The Hague postponed the Indian Ocean Maritime dispute between Kenya and Somalia, citing Coronavirus pandemic as the motivating factor following Kenya’s application.

Both countries claim sovereignty of an area in the Indian Ocean that is thought to be rich in oil and gas.

The case was scheduled for June 8-12 this year and both parties had been asked to file submissions to allow “smooth deliberations” without “further” delay when the court sat in November 2019 over the case.

A statement from the ICJ indicated on Tuesday that the case “stands postponed due to Coronavirus pandemic” and set March 2021 from 15th to 19th as the dates for hearing from both parties. Further directives on filing submissions shall be communicated, it added.

The move is a huge reprieve to Kenya which has been lobbying for an out of court settlement despite making an application dated April 23 citing COVID-19 pandemic as the “main factor” delaying any meaningful submissions as directed by the court.

Both Kenya and Somalia are battling the surge of Coronavirus cases. The latter has reported slightly over 1,400 cases while the former has over 900 cases with the cumulative total of death from both sides being 106 cases.

Somalia’s Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Mohammed Gulaid told the BBC last week that his country objected to a new petition from Kenya asking to delay the hearing because of the virus outbreak.

Last week, Somalia DP Minister Mahdi Mohamed Gulaid had insisted that “we cannot take any of these applications, the cases must proceed as scheduled. We are ready to adopt the virtual proceedings”.

But in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, the firebrand politician appeared to concede the decision, adding that “as FGS we do not agree with the directive but we shall adhere to the request made by Kenya”.

Kenya said the pandemic had wreaked havoc on its economy and its plans to defend itself, according to documents sent to the court and seen by the BBC.

Somalia had asked the court to hold the hearing virtually using video technology.