Agreement Reached in Long-Disputed Maritime Border

On Monday, October 8, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) released its ruling on the long-disputed maritime border between Nicaragua and Honduras. The area over which the two countries were fighting is rich with fish and oil and gas exploration possibilities. The members of the Court included President Higgins and Vice-President Al-Khasawneh, as well as more than ten others. The Court’s decision came after many years of dispute between the two Central American countries that escalated to Nicaragua bringing a formal complaint to the Court on December 8, 1999.

Nicaragua claimed a maritime boundary that followed its coast to the 17th parallel, while Honduras claimed a maritime boundary that extended from the 15th parallel. See the map of the disputed boundary here. At times, the eight-year long dispute intensified to each country commandeering each other's fishing boats. However, both countries have agreed to abide by the ICJ's decision.

An ICJ press release summarizes each country's requests: "The Court begins by stating the subject-matter of the dispute. It notes that Nicaragua asked it to determine the course of the single maritime boundary between the areas of territorial sea, continental shelf and exclusive economic zone appertaining respectively to Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea. Nicaragua maintains that this maritime boundary has never been delimited. Honduras contends that there already exists in the Caribbean Sea a traditionally recognized boundary, along the 15th parallel, between the maritime spaces of Honduras and Nicaragua, having its origin in the principle of uti possidetis juris (pursuant to which boundaries inherited upon decolonization must be respected). Honduras asks the Court to confirm this maritime boundary. The Court further notes that during the oral proceedings Nicaragua made a specific request that the Court pronounce on sovereignty over islands located in the disputed area to the north of the 15th parallel. Although this claim is formally a new one, the Court considers it to be admissible because it is inherent in the original claim. During the oral proceedings Honduras also asked the Court to find that sovereignty over the islands north of the 15th parallel lay with Honduras."

The Court decided by fifteen votes to two that the starting point of the maritime boundary would be at 15° 00' 52" N and 83° 05' 58" W, which can be seen here. The boundary continues in a straight diagonal until it makes a 12-nautical-mile arc around Bobel Cay, Savanna Cay, Port Royal Cay, and South Cay, which can be seen in the map here. The court also unanimously decided that Honduras has sovereignty over those four Caribbean islands.

Nicaragua is also involved in another dispute before the ICJ with Costa Rica, which the Court recently authorized the submission of more information for (see the ICJ's October 9 press release here). The entire text of the Court's ruling on the Nicaragua-Honduras border can be found here.