World Court settles sea dispute between Chile and Peru

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 1:54am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 3:35am


The International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled that Chile and Peru should split sovereignty over an area of sea the size of Sri Lanka off their coast, settling a dispute that stems from a war 130 years ago.

The judges recognised the existing maritime border that runs directly west from the land border for 148 milometres, said the court's president Peter Tomka. After that, the new border runs south-west to a point that is 370 milometres equidistant from the cost of the two countries.

Peru had claimed sovereignty over 66,680 square kilometres of rich fishing waters off the two neighbours' Pacific coast. Chile has exercised sovereignty over 57 per cent of the area closest to its coastline and considered the remainder as high seas. Under yesterday's ruling, Chile's loses control over part of that territory.

The disputed zone includes one of the world's richest fishing grounds, with an annual catch of US$200 million estimated by Peru's fishing industry.

But, for many, the 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, had urged his countrymen to fly the flag yesterday and employers to let people await the judgment at home.

Yet the actual border area has long been a model of coexistence. Citizens of both countries travel freely between Arica and its Peruvian sister city of Tacna, both of which depend on the fishing industry and on each other.

Chileans crowd into Tacna's hospitals and clinics for the cheaper health care, while Peruvians work construction and other day jobs on the Chilean side of the border.

Rulings by the court are final and binding on both countries. The presidents of Peru and Chile have each said they would adhere to whatever decision was. The countries are partners in a number of important regional and Pacific economic alliances and have seen annual bilateral trade grow from US$500 million in 2006 to US$4.3 billion today and each had significant investments in the other in various sectors. Chilean government figures put Peruvian investment in Chile at US$11 billion last year with Chile investing US$13.5 billion in Peru.

Associated Press, Bloomberg