ICJ draws new Peru-Chile maritime border
Rich fishing grounds remain in Santiago’s hands but Lima receives a bigger chunk of ocean
LIMA — The United Nations’ highest court set a new maritime boundary between Chile and Peru yesterday, granting the latter a bigger piece of the Pacific Ocean but keeping rich coastal fishing-grounds in Chilean hands.
Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, expressed “profound” disagreement with the International Court of Justice’s ruling. He called it “a lamentable loss.”
Peru’s leader, Ollanta Humala, also addressing his nation on television, said he was satisfied that the court had, in his view, recognized Peru’s argument that no maritime treaty previously existed between the neighbours.
Less than 100 Chilean fishermen protested the ruling in the northern port of Arica and police dispersed them with water cannon after some hurled stones at a military barracks. Police announced four arrests.
No other disturbances were reported after a verdict whose anticipation had been an obsession for Peru’s news media but which is expected to have little effect on cordial ties between neighbours that have become economically interdependent.
The ruling announced in a European courtroom ends a decades-old dispute over nearly 38,000 square kilometres of the world’s richest fishing grounds — the area’s annual catch has been estimated at US$200 million.
Peruvian historian Nelson Manrique called it an “intelligent verdict” that is “not going to please anyone but it’s also not going to bring anyone to fits.”
The case filed in 2008 by Peru’s then-President Alan García was a matter of national pride for Peruvians, some of whom maintain rancor over a 19th-century conquest. Chile’s three northernmost provinces were seized from Peru and Bolivia in the 1879-83 War of the Pacific. Bolivia lost its coast in the conflict and has made a separate presentation at the ICJ, hoping to regain an outlet to the sea.
Humala, a former army officer, said yesterday was “one of the days that will mark my life and I feel proud to have lived as a soldier and now as a politician. I feel prouder every day to be Peruvian.”
The national anthem then played.
Peru had sought a sea border perpendicular to the countries’ coast, heading roughly southwest. Chile insisted the border extend parallel to the equator.
The court, whose rulings cannot be appealed, compromised by saying a border already existed parallel to the equator extending 80 nautical miles from the coast. From there, it drew a line southwest to where the countries’ 200-mile territorial waters end.
Patricia Majluf, a leading Peruvian fisheries scientist, said the area up to 128 kilometres that remains in Chilean hands “is where the Chilean boats fish the most.”
“All the anchoveta is fished in that zone,” she said. The species of anchovy is converted into fish meal for an insatiable global market that uses it in animal feed, fertilizer and fish oil pills.
After Peru, Chile is the world’s No. 2 exporter of fish meal. The two nations share the world’s richest fishing grounds, supported by the cold Humboldt current.
Peruvian economist Juan Carlos Sueiro said the verdict maintains the status quo in the anchovy industry — benefiting in particular Chile’s Grupo Angelini. He said small-time Peruvian fishermen who catch shark, tuna and mahi-mahi farther offshore will also benefit.
But David Patiño, the leader of Peruvian fishermen in the region, called the ruling a loss.
“We haven’t won anything. We are in the same situation as the past,” he said.
Majluf said about one million tons of anchoveta are harvested annually off the northern Chile coast, about the same amount as off the southern Peruvian coast.
Despite differences over fishing, the border area has been a model of coexistence. Citizens of both countries travel across it freely, with Chileans crowding into hospitals and clinics in Tacna, Arica’s sister city for cheaper healthcare. Peruvians work in construction and other day jobs on the Chilean side.
Herald with AP