LIMA, Peru — The United Nations’ highest court set a maritime boundary between Chile and Peru on Monday, granting the latter a bigger piece of the Pacific Ocean but keeping rich coastal fishing grounds in Chilean hands.
Chile’s president, Sebastian Pinera, 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 South American neighbors.
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 neighbors whose economic interdependence has grown.
The ruling announced in a European courtroom ends a decades-old dispute over nearly 38,000 square kilometers (14,670 square miles) 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 Garcia 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
Humala, a former army officer, said Monday is “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 80 miles (128 kilometers) 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 — 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, the small-time Peruvian fishermen who catch shark, tuna and mahi-mahi farther offshore will also benefit.
The leader of small-time Peruvian fishermen in the region, David Patino, nevertheless called the ruling a loss.
“We haven’t won anything. We are in the same situation as the past,” he said.
Majluf said about 1 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 health care. Peruvians work in construction and other day jobs on the Chilean side.
Peru and Chile are partners in important regional and Pacific economic alliances whose annual bilateral trade grow from $500 million in 2006 to $4.3 billion today.
Chilean government figures put Peruvian investment in Chile at $11 billion last year with Chile investing $13.5 billion in Peru.