ICJ to rule on Peru-Chile maritime dispute

The United Nations’ highest court was ruling on Monday on a dispute between Peru and Chile that centres on thousands of square km of ocean and lucrative fishing grounds but has turned into an issue of national pride for the Latin American neighbours.

The International Court of Justice decision was expected to establish which country owns some 38,000 sq. km of ocean in a zone extending to the limit of each country’s territorial waters.

Peru is seeking recognition of a maritime border perpendicular to the coast. Chile insists the border is on a line horizontal to the earth’s axis.

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. The bulk of the catch is an anchovy species that is mostly converted into fish meal, which can be used in animal feed and fertilizers.

But, for many, the case launched in 2008 by Peru is a matter of national pride. Chile seized its three northernmost provinces during the 1879-93 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, has urged his countrymen to fly the flag on Monday.

If Peru wins, some 2,000 Chilean fishermen fear they could lose their jobs.

Fishing companies such as Corpesca, which is based in the Chilean port of Arica, would suffer lost revenues. After Peru, Chile is the world’s No. 2 exporter of fish meal.

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.

— AP