A New Maritime Boundary

International Court of Justice ruling establishes new maritime limits between Peru and Chile, but fate of resulting land patch remains unresolved

Posted on 02/9/14
By Cecilia Remón | Via Latinamerica Press
Course of the new maritime boundary between Chile and Peru. (Image: ICJ)
Course of the new maritime boundary between Chile and Peru. (Image: ICJ)

Smiles in Lima and long faces in Santiago were the first reactions to the ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the Netherlands, on Jan. 27 regarding the new maritime boundary between Peru and Chile. ICJ justices granted Peru 50,284 square kilometers (19,410 square miles) of maritime domain, part of which was previously under Chilean control — known in Spanish as the “triángulo interno,” or inner triangle— ; also allotted to Peru was the so-called “triángulo externo,” or outer triangle, which Chile previously maintained was international waters.


The ICJ defined the new maritime boundary with a latitudinal line extending 80 nautical miles from a marker on the coast known as Hito 1 in Spanish. Then the new frontier takes a southwesterly turn and continues to Point B, before taking another sharp and brief turn to the south to Point C, which is 200 nautical miles equidistant from both countries. Ultimately, Chile retained only 16,352 square kilometers (6,313 square miles) of the originally disputed area.


In the end, the ICJ — as usual — didn’t side entirely with either party. However, overall Peru received 70 percent of what it had demanded from the court.


History of the conflict
The ruling, which is binding and enforceable, should end a dispute more than 130 years in the making, from the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) between Bolivia, Chile and Peru, during which Peru lost the province of Arica to Chile, and Bolivia that of Tarapacá, leaving the latter country landlocked. In 1929, Peru and Chile signed the Treaty of Lima, definitively agreeing on a land border.


The treaty determined that the area of Tacna belongs to Peru, while Arica is Chilean. It also asserted that the border extends into the Pacific Ocean “from a point on the shoreline 10 km northwest of the first bridge of the Arica-La Paz railway over the Lluta River.”


For Peru, the maritime boundary began at that spot, called Punto Concordia, on the low-tide line. For Chile it started at Hito 1, located 300 meters away off-shore to avoid being swept out to sea. This matter has not been resolved by the ICJ ruling as the judges have argued that their mandate in this case was not to determine the land boundaries.


In 1952, Chile, Ecuador and Peru signed the “Declaration on the Maritime Zone,” recognizing the “sovereignty and exclusive jurisdiction that corresponds to each of them over the sea that bathes the coasts of their respective countries, to a minimum distance of 200 nautical miles from these shores.”


Two years later, the three countries signed the “Agreement on the Special Maritime Zone”, which established a “special zone 12 nautical miles from the shoreline, of 10 nautical miles wide on each side of the line that establishes the maritime boundary between the two countries [that share a border].” The treaty added that “the accidental presence in the aforementioned areas of vessels of any neighboring countries will not be considered a violation of the maritime zone’s waters, however without implying the recognition of any right to practice intentional hunting or fishing operations in this Special Zone.”


Since 1986, Peru has tried to establish bilateral talks with Chile to determine maritime boundaries. In 2004, Peru formally brought up negotiations, which Chile declined noting that the agreements of 1952 and 1954 treaties established boundaries and there was nothing to discuss. Three years later, Peru submitted its application for maritime boundaries with Chile to the ICJ, proposing a line equidistant from the Punto Concordia and extending up to 200 miles. Chile, meanwhile, proposed a parallel line up to 200 nautical miles, which would cut the Peruvian maritime space and expand the Chilean, since at this point the slope of the coast changes. The orientation of the Chilean coast from the border is from north to south, while the Peruvian runs northeast-southeast.


Behind the ruling
While surprising that ICJ would establish a boundary for 80 nautical miles along the parallel, the court justified the decision because of the countries’ fishing practices.


According to Peruvian international relations expert Farid Kahatt, the ruling was so that neither side would feel totally vindicated. The message was “We give Peru the sea, but Chile all the fishing,” he told Latinamerica Press.


“Those first 80 miles are where the most fishing is possible. Small-scale fishing happens in only the first 5 or 6 miles off the coast, not more than that,” Kahatt said.


Peruvian analyst Alejandro Deustua agrees with Kahatt that the decision doesn’t help the artisanal fishermen of Tacna.


“Small-scale fishing in Tacna will remain the same as before,” he told Latinamerica Press.


One example is the Peruvian cove of Santa Rosa, about 2 km from the border. With a population of roughly 300, fishermen have fewer than 500 meters (1,640 feet) to fish — beyond that, the waters belong to Chile and will continue to do so. They take out their pared-down, basic boats every day to haul in 5 kg of fish that they then sell to nearby towns or that they exchange for produce.


Although Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has committed to investing in Santa Rosa, the government has totally forgotten about the area. There is no potable water, sewage or basic sanitation systems. The school is still a trailer put up in 2000 that was supposed to be temporary. The medical center was built by a non-governmental organization and has no electricity.


Humala and outgoing Chilean President Sebastián Piñera have committed to respecting the ruling and executing it gradually, but what is clear is that no decision has been made about the triangle on land between Hito 1, Punto Concordia, and the waterline.


Piñera said: “The ruling confirms that Chile will keep almost all of its fishing rights and all of [the rights of] our artisanal fishermen. This of course makes us happy.” He added, however, that turning over the exclusive economic zone between the 80 and 200 mile markers — which the country controlled before the ruling — was a “lamentable loss for Chile.”


Moreover, Piñera, other officials and former Chilean leaders believe the ruling from the ICJ confirms “the maritime boundary begins at the parallel from Hito 1, and ratifies our domain over the corresponding triangle of land.”


“Piñera’s interpretation is completely false,” Kahatt countered. “If the issue goes to arbitration, as is established in the Treaty of 1929, Chile will lose.”


Deustua believes one of the problems with having established the maritime boundary based on the location of Hito 1 is that “it encourages Chile’s vindication for the land triangle.” —Latinamerica Press.

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