Rockall--A Tiny Island Claimed by Four Nations

(Photo by Andy Strangeway)

Rockall is a tiny island—a rock, really—in the north Atlantic Ocean. Ireland, the UK, Denmark and Iceland all lay claim to it. For more than 60 years, those nations have been locked in a quiet struggle for possession of it.

The island is a volcanic plug that is only 764 square meters in area. It would be almost impossible to settle. So you might think that this dispute would be a minor issue, but it’s not. That’s because international treaties give nations sovereign control over the use of waters and continental shelves off their coasts. What’s at stake in the Rockall dispute is not a bit of almost inaccessible land, but 422,000 square kilometers of water--and the apparently substantial natural gas resources beneath the ocean floor.

(Map by Bjarki)

In 1810, Britain attempted to lay the first claim with a Royal Navy expedition to the island. A similar 1955 expedition placed a plaque and the Union flag on the island and claimed it in the name of Queen Elizabeth II. An act of Parliament in 1972 affirmed the island’s legal status as far as the United Kingdom was concerned.

(Video Link)

Irish sentiment on the subject can be summarized by the popular song “Rock on Rockall” by the band The Wolfe Tones. It’s embedded above. Here’s a selection of the lyrics:

Oh rock on Rockall, you'll never fall to Britain's greedy hands
Or you'll meet the same resistance that you did in many lands
May the seagulls rise and pluck your eyes and the water crush your shell,
And the natural gas will burn your ass and blow you all to hell.

(Photo of Rockall and an Irish warship by the Irish Defense Forces)

So some Irishmen feel rather strongly about the issue. What precisely is the Irish claim to Rockall? That is more difficult for me to determine, but it appears that Ireland, Denmark and Iceland dispute the limits of their relative continental shelves. Each nation's claim overlaps with the others. 

Bowcott, Owen. “Who Owns Rockall? A History of Legal and Diplomatic Wrangles.” The Guardian. 30 May 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Hennessey, Mark. Irish Times. 28 Sept. 2007. Newspaper Source. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Symmons, Clive R. “Ireland and the Rockall Dispute: An Analysis of Recent Developments.” IBRU Boundary and Security Bulletin. Spring 1998. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

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