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Peru-Chile spat ends in new maritime boundary

After decades of debate, top court awards Peru parts of the Pacific, but Chile keeps rich coastal fishing grounds.

Last updated: 27 Jan 2014 19:02
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For many, the court case launched in 2008 by Peru was a matter of national pride [Reuters]

The United Nations' highest court has drawn a new maritime boundary between Peru and Chile, awarding Peru parts of the Pacific Ocean but keeping rich coastal fishing grounds in Chilean hands.

Not going to please anyone but it's also not going to bring anyone to fits.

 Nelson Manrique, Historian.

The decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday ends decades of debate about how to carve up the fish-rich Latin American waters.

"The Court has defined the course of the maritime boundary between the parties without determining the precise geographical coordinates," Judge Peter Tomka said, calling the decision an "equitable solution".

Peru had wanted a maritime border heading roughly southwest, perpendicular to the point where the two countries' land border meets the ocean, while Chile had insisted the border should extend from the coast parallel to the equator.

The court found a compromise by saying a border already existed parallel to the equator extending 80 nautical miles from the coast, and then drawing a line southwest to a point where the countries' 200-mile territorial waters end.

Peruvian historian and columnist Nelson Manrique said the decision was "not going to please anyone but it's also not going to bring anyone to fits."

Both Chile's and Peru's presidents said earlier that their countries would respect the judgement, which was swiftly criticised by the the head of Chilean delegation, Albert van Klaveren Stork.

"We deeply regret this decision, which in our opinion is unfounded," he said.

Lucrative industry

Patricia Majluf, a leading Peruvian fisheries scientist, said the area up to 80 miles that remains in Chilean hands was where Chilean boats fished the most, and the verdict was unlikely to cost any Chilean fishermen their jobs.

"All the anchoveta is fished in that zone," she said. The anchovy species is converted into fish meal for an insatiable global market that uses it in animal feed and fertiliser.

Species such as shark and mackerel are caught between the 80-mile limit and the 200-mile territorial water limit of both nations, but it is a far less lucrative industry, Majluf said.

Peru's fishing industry estimates the annual catch in the region to be worth approximately $200m.

For many, the court case launched in 2008 by Peru was a matter of national pride. Chile seized its three northernmost provinces during the 1879-83 War of the Pacific from Peru and Bolivia, which lost its only coast in the conflict.

Former Peruvian President Alan Garcia, whose government brought the case before the Hague-based court, urged his countrymen to fly the flag on Monday and encouraged employers to let people await the judgement at home.

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