|This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (October 2013)|
|Location of Rockall in the North Atlantic Ocean|
|Location||North Atlantic Ocean|
|Area||784.3 m2 (8,442 sq ft)|
|Length||31 m (102 ft)|
|Width||25.3 m (83 ft)|
21.4 m (70 ft)
|Autonomous province||Faroe Islands|
|County council||County Donegal|
|Council area||Outer Hebrides, Scotland|
Rockall (Irish: Rocal, Scottish Gaelic: Rocabarraigh) is a small, uninhabited, remote rocky islet in the North Atlantic Ocean. It gives its name to one of the sea areas named in the shipping forecast provided by the British Meteorological Office.
Since the late 16th century Rockall, a 20-metre-high (60 ft) rock in the Atlantic Ocean, has been noted in written records, although it is likely that some northern Atlantic fishermen knew of the rock before these historical accounts were made. In the 20th century the location of the islet became a major concern due to oil and fishing rights, spurring continued debate amongst several European nations.
Rockall has also been a point of interest for adventurers and amateur radio operators who have variously landed on or occupied the islet for up to several months, although fewer than 20 individuals have ever been confirmed to have landed on Rockall, and the longest continuous stay by an individual as of May 2013 is 42 days.
In 1956 the British scientist James Fisher referred to the island as "the most isolated small rock in the oceans of the world." The neighbouring Hasselwood Rock and several other pinnacles of the surrounding Helen's Reef are however smaller, at half or less the size of Rockall and equally remote. Yet these formations are technically not considered islands or points on land per se, as they are often submerged completely, only revealed momentarily under certain types of ocean surface waves.
The ownership of Rockall is disputed. The islet is claimed by Denmark (for the Faroe Islands), Iceland, Ireland and the United Kingdom. All four governments have made submissions to the commission set up under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The issue was included in the provisional agenda of the meeting of the commission to be held in New York from 7 March to 21 April 2011 and recommendations pursuant to Article 76 of the Convention were made.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Geography
- 3 Ecology
- 4 Geology
- 5 Disasters
- 6 Law of the Sea
- 7 History and conflicting claims
- 8 Private exploration
- 9 Negotiations
- 10 In popular culture
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
The origin of the name Rockall is uncertain but it has been suggested that it derives from the Gaelic Sgeir Rocail, meaning skerry (or sea rock) of roaring, (although rocail can also be translated as "tearing" or "ripping"). There may also be an etymological link with the Old Norse hrukka.
The first literary reference to the island, where it is called Rokol, is found in Martin Martin's A Description of the Western isles of Scotland published in 1703. This book gives an account of a voyage to the archipelago of St. Kilda and its proximity to Rockall: "and from it lies Rokol, a small rock sixty leagues to the westward of St. Kilda; the inhabitants of this place call it 'Rokabarra'."
Dutch mapmakers P. Plancius and C. Claesz show an island 'Rookol' northwest of Ireland in the their Map of New France and the Northern Atlantic Ocean (Amsterdam, c. 1594). The name 'Rocabarraigh' is also used in Scottish Gaelic folklore for a mythical rock which is supposed to appear three times, the last being at the end of the world: "Nuair a thig Rocabarra ris, is dual gun tèid an Saoghal a sgrios" (When Rocabarra returns, the world will likely come to be destroyed).
It has most recently been suggested that the name derives ultimately from Old Norse, and comes from the word *rok (as in Icelandic rok), meaning 'foaming sea', and kollR, meaning 'bald head', a word which appears in other local names in Scandinavian-speaking areas. The Gaelic name would then be derivable from the Norse form.
The islet of Rockall makes up the eroded core of an extinct volcano (a volcanic plug), and is one of the few pinnacles of the surrounding Helen's Reef. It is located 301.3 km, or 162.7 nmi west of the island of Soay, St Kilda, Scotland, and 423.2 kilometres (263.0 mi), or 228.5 nmi, northwest of Tory Island, County Donegal, Ireland. The surrounding elevated seabed is called the Rockall Bank, lying directly south from an area known as the Rockall Plateau. It is separated from the Western Isles by the Rockall Trough, itself located within the Rockall Basin (also known as the "Hatton Rockall Basin"). The Anton Dohrn Seamount is a submarine elevation on Rockall Trough about halfway between Rockall and the Outer Hebrides.
Cold-water coral mounds have been identified in the region, and are currently being researched. Rockall lies near the Darwin Mounds, deep water coral mounds about 185 km (100 nmi or 115 mi) northwest of Cape Wrath. These corals are long-lived and slow-growing, a justification for designating Rockall and the Rockall waters as a Marine Protected Area.
Rockall is about 25.3 metres (83 ft) wide and 31 metres (102 ft) long at its base and rises sheer to a height of approximately 21.4 metres (70 ft). It is regularly washed over by large storm waves, particularly in winter. There is a small ledge of 3.5 by 1.3 metres (11 by 4 ft), known as Hall's Ledge, 4 metres (13 ft) from the summit on the rock's western face. It is the only named geographical location on the rock, other than Rockall as a whole.
The nearest point on land from Rockall is 301.3 km, or 162.7 nmi, east at the uninhabited Scottish island of Soay in the St Kilda archipelago. The nearest inhabited area lies 303.2 km, or 163.7 nmi, east at Hirta, the largest island in the St. Kilda group, which is populated intermittently at a single military base. The nearest permanently inhabited settlement is 366.8 km, or 198.1 nmi, west of the headland of Aird an Runair, near the crofting township of Hogha Gearraidh on the island of North Uist at NF705711 (. North Uist is part of the )Na h-Eileanan Siar council area of Scotland.
The island's only permanent macro-organism inhabitants are common periwinkles and other marine molluscs. Small numbers of seabirds, mainly fulmars, northern gannets, black-legged kittiwakes, and common guillemots, use the rock for resting in summer, and gannets and guillemots occasionally breed successfully if the summer is calm with no storm waves washing over the rock. In total there have been just over twenty species of seabird and six other animal species observed (including the aforementioned molluscs) on or near the islet.
The exact position of Rockall and the size and shape of the Rockall Bank was first charted in 1831 by Captain A.T.E. Vidal, a Royal Navy surveyor. The first scientific expedition to Rockall was led by Miller Christie in 1896 when the Royal Irish Academy sponsored a study of the flora and fauna. They chartered the Granuaile.
The RV Celtic Explorer surveyed the Rockall Bank and North West of Donegal in 2003. The ILV Granuaile was chartered by the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI), on behalf of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (DCMNR), to conduct a seismic survey at the Rockall and Hatton Banks in July 2004, as part of the National Seabed Survey.
Rockall is made of a type of peralkaline granite that is relatively rich in sodium and potassium. Within this granite are darker bands richer in the alkali pyroxene mineral aegirine and the alkali amphibole mineral riebeckite. The dark bands are a type of granite that geologists have named "rockallite", although use of this term is now discouraged. In 1975, a new mineral was discovered on Rockall. The mineral is called bazirite, (chemical composition BaZrSi3O9), named after the elements barium and zirconium.
Rockall forms part of the deeply eroded Rockall Igneous Centre that was formed as part of the North Atlantic Igneous Province, approximately 55 million years ago, when the ancient continent of Laurasia was split apart by plate tectonics. Greenland and Europe separated and the northeast Atlantic Ocean was formed between them.
There have been disasters on the neighbouring Hasselwood Rock and Helen's Reef (the latter was not named until 1830).
- 1686 — a Spanish, French, or Spanish-French ship ran aground on Rockall. Several men of the crew, Spanish and French, were able to reach St. Kilda in a pinnace and save their lives. Some details of this event were recounted by Martin Martin in his A late voyage to St. Kilda, published in 1698. The ship was perhaps a fishing vessel based in the Bay of Biscay and bound for North Atlantic cod fisheries.
- 1812 — survey vessel Leonidas foundered on Helen's Reef.
Law of the Sea
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states, “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.”
The convention was ratified by all four states in dispute over the Rockall Plateau – Iceland on 26 January 1985, Ireland on 21 January 1996, the United Kingdom on 25 July 1997 and Denmark on 16 November 2004.
The twenty-fourth session of the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) was held in New York from 10 August to 11 September 2009. Iceland, Ireland, and the United Kingdom have made submissions. Denmark will make a submission before 2014.
On 7 November 1988 the United Kingdom and Ireland agreed a delineation which ignores Rockall's existence and have granted exploration rights. This bilateral agreement is disputed by Iceland and by Denmark.
In 1997, the UK Government declared that "The United Kingdom's fishery limits will need to be redefined based on St Kilda, since Rockall is not a valid base point for such limits under Article 121(3) of the Convention". This is the only example to date of a state voluntarily downgrading an insular feature to "a rock" and thus reducing the area of its claimed maritime zones.
History and conflicting claims
Rockall is within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claimed by the United Kingdom.[not in citation given (See discussion.)][not in citation given (See discussion.)] In 1997, the UK ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and thus relinquished any claim to an extension of its EEZ beyond the islet. The remaining issue is the status of the continental shelf rights of surrounding ocean floor. These are the exclusive rights to exploit any resources on or under the ocean floor (oil, natural gas, etc.) and should not be confused with the EEZ, as continental shelf rights do not carry any privileges with regard to fisheries. Ownership of these rights in the Rockall area are disputed between the United Kingdom, Denmark (for the Faroe Islands), Ireland and Iceland.
The UK claims a 12-nautical-mile (22 km; 14 mi) territorial sea around Rockall that merges with a 200-nautical-mile (370 km; 230 mi) Extended Fishery Zone, 200-nautical-mile continental shelf and other zones, drawn from baselines on the west coast of the Western Islands. The UK also claims "a circle of UK sovereign airspace over the islet of Rockall".
The nearest (seasonally) inhabited land to Rockall is Hirta, and the nearest permanently inhabited land is North Uist, both of which are in the United Kingdom (see above). In 1997 the United Kingdom ratified the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In doing so it relinquished its right to claim an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nmi (370 km) extending onward from the rock, as the agreement states that "Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf". But as Rockall lies within 200 nmi (370 km) of both St. Kilda and North Uist, it remains within the EEZ of the United Kingdom and, as such, under international law the UK can claim "the sovereignty of the coastal state in relation to the exploitation, conservation and management of natural and living resources fishery and mineral resources" of the rock itself and an area of territorial waters extending for 12 nmi (22 km) around it. Furthermore, the United Kingdom and Ireland have signed an EEZ boundary agreement that includes Rockall in the United Kingdom area.
Rockall and a large sea area around it were declared as coming under the jurisdiction of Scots law under the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order (map) in 1999. This sea area is co-terminous with the UK's EEZ.
The date for the earliest recorded landing on the island is often given as 8 July 1810, when a Royal Navy officer named Basil Hall led a small landing party from the frigate HMS Endymion to the summit. However, research by James Fisher of the 1955 landing (see below) in the log of the Endymion and elsewhere, indicates that the true date for this first landing was Sunday 8 September 1811.
The Endymion was taking depth measurements around Rockall when it drifted away in a haze. The expedition made a brief attempt to find the frigate in the haze, but soon gave up and returned to Rockall. After the haze became a fog, the lookout sent to the top of Rockall spotted the ship again, but it turned away from Rockall before the expedition in their boats reached it. Finally, just before sunset, the frigate was again spotted from the top of Rockall, and the expedition was able to get back on board. The crew of the Endymion reported that they had been searching for five or six hours, firing their cannon every ten minutes. Hall related this experience and other adventures in a book entitled Fragment of Voyages and Travels Including Anecdotes of a Naval Life.
The next landing was accomplished by a Mr Johns of HMS Porcupine, whilst the ship was on a mission, from June and August 1862, to make a survey of the sea bed prior to the laying of a transatlantic telegraph cable. Johns managed to gain foothold on the island, but failed to reach the summit.
On 18 September 1955 at precisely 10.16 am, in what would be the final territorial expansion of the British Empire, the island was officially annexed by the British Crown when Lieutenant-Commander Desmond Scott RN, Sergeant Brian Peel RM, Corporal AA Fraser RM, and James Fisher (a civilian naturalist and former Royal Marine), were deposited on the island by a Royal Navy helicopter from HMS Vidal (coincidentally named after the man who first charted the island). The team cemented in a brass plaque on Hall's Ledge and hoisted the Union Flag to stake the UK's claim. The inscription on the plaque read:
By authority of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, and in accordance with Her Majesty's instructions dated the 14th day of September, 1955, a landing was effected this day upon this island of Rockall from HMS Vidal. The Union flag was hoisted and possession of the island was taken in the name of Her Majesty. [Signed] R H Connell, Captain, HMS Vidal, 18 September 1955.
In 2010, it was revealed that the plaque had gone missing. An Englishman, Andy Strangeway, announced his intention to land on the island and affix a replacement plaque in June 2010. The Western Isles Council have approved planning permission for the plaque. The 2010 expedition was cancelled, but Strangeway still intends to replace the plaque.
The formal annexation of Rockall was announced by the Admiralty on 21 September 1955. The initial incentive for this had little to do with any territorial claim to rights of exploitation of the seas around the island. It was the test firing of the UK's first guided nuclear weapon, the American-made Corporal missile. The missile was to be launched from South Uist and over the North Atlantic. The Ministry of Defence was concerned that the unclaimed island would provide a unique opportunity for the Soviet Union to spy on the test by placing surveillance equipment on the island; and so in April 1955 a request was sent to the Admiralty to seize the island, and declare UK sovereignty lest it become an outpost for foreign observers.
On 10 February 1972, the Island of Rockall Act received Royal Assent to make the island administratively part of the Isle of Harris (St. Kilda being administratively part of Harris), in what was then Inverness-shire, fully incorporating it into the United Kingdom. A navigational beacon was installed during 1982 by RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team via Chinook helicopter on the island and the UK declared that no ship would be allowed within a 50-mile (80 km) radius of the rock. In United Kingdom law, it now falls administratively under the Outer Hebrides.
Danish/Faroese claims in the area
The Faroe Islands are an autonomous country of the Kingdom of Denmark. Since 1948 they have had self-government in almost all matters except defence and foreign affairs. Consequently their interests in Rockall are represented by Denmark. On their behalf, Denmark claims continental shelf rights in the Hatton-Rockall area.
A communiqué issued by the Prime Minister's Office on 7 May 1985 announced the designation of not only the seabed in the immediate vicinity of the Faroes but also a vast area of the Rockall plateau to the south west. The press release which accompanied the communiqué indicated that the legal basis of this designation was the assumption that "the Faroe Islands are part of the microcontinent" formed by the "Faroes-Rockall Plateau", an "elevated plain with its summit in the Faroe Islands".
Icelandic claims in the area
Iceland does not claim the rock itself, considering it irrelevant as far as delimitation of EEZs and continental shelf is concerned. Iceland however claims an extended continental shelf in the Hatton-Rockall area.
Iceland considers St. Kilda to be "a minuscule, effectively uninhabited, islet, categorized under article 121(3) of the Law of the Sea Convention". Furthermore St. Kilda lies outside the British territorial sea limit. Therefore it is not an "equitable basepoint for an equidistant line".
Iceland ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1985; it was the first Western country to do so. A regulation was issued by the government in that same year outlining the area where Iceland claimed continental shelf rights for itself; the regulation was based on legislation from 1979 claiming for Iceland the exclusive right to research and exploitation of continental shelf-based resources within the limits of the Icelandic continental shelf. Regarding the Hatton-Rockall area, it claims the area within 60 nautical miles (110 km) from the foot of the continental shelf and assumes that the UK and Ireland cannot claim a continental shelf outside their EEZs. To its fullest extent, this area reaches about 700 nautical miles (1,300 km) to the south from Iceland's coast, which is further south than the United Kingdom's southernmost point.
In 2001, Iceland began working on its submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf; it is scheduled to finish in 2007. The most important aspect of this work is to survey the entire ocean floor in the areas claimed outside the EEZ and, in Iceland's case, a part of the area inside the EEZ as well. In all, 1.3 million square kilometres (500,000 sq mi) have been surveyed by Icelandic marine research institutions for this purpose, an area 13 times larger than the land area of Iceland. The commission does however not make proposals regarding areas that are claimed by two or more states unless they have already reached an agreement on its division. Therefore Iceland's submission is expected to deal only with the area that just Iceland has claimed and not the Hatton-Rockall area. Iceland also hosted an informal meeting of all parties to the dispute in 2001. It was the first such meeting regarding the dispute where all four countries participated.
Irish claims to Rockall and the surrounding area
Historically, the claims to the rock by Ireland was based on its distance from a mainland. Ireland is nearer by some 31.15 kilometres (19.36 mi) from the County Donegal coastline as compared with Invernesshire in Scotland. Ireland regards Rockall as an uninhabitable rock without any territorial waters and thus irrelevant when determining the boundaries of the exclusive economic zones.
According to a Written Parliamentary Answer from the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs on 14 June 1990, an agreement was reached between the British and Irish governments on delimitation of the continental shelf between the two countries and that this included a line of delimitation across the Rockall Plateau. As a result, a very extensive area under Irish jurisdiction, including part of the Rockall Trough and Plateau, is not disputed by the United Kingdom. No further negotiations were taking place in relation to the rock at the time.
More recently, on 11 June 2003, the Irish Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources gave a Written Parliamentary Answer, stating: "Ireland claims an extended continental shelf ... up to more than 500 nautical miles (926 km), particularly in the Hatton–Rockall area".
As the United Nations has no mandate regarding issues of delimitation between neighbouring states and cannot consider an area under dispute without the agreement of all the parties concerned, Ireland has participated in informal discussions with Iceland and the Faroe Islands in an attempt to resolve the dispute before making its submission to the Commission.
Independent Irish politician, former TD, Alderman Seán Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus (1927–2010), a former Lord Mayor of Dublin (1995–1996), long advocated that Ireland make a territorial claim on Rockall, and enthusiastically supported Greenpeace's occupation. Loftus, who had changed his name by deed poll to "Seán Dublin Bay Loftus" to highlight his campaign for the protection of the environment of Dublin Bay, changed it again, adding "Rockall" to demonstrate his commitment to an Irish claim on the islet. In October 2012, a picture appeared in the Irish Independent showing the Irish Navy ship L.E Roisin sailing past Rockall defending Ireland's Sovereign Rights to the rock.
The "Round Rockall" sailing race, sponsored by Galway Bay Sailing Club, runs from Galway, Ireland, around Rockall and back. It was held in 2012 to coincide with the finish of the 2011–12 Volvo Ocean Race around the world.
In 1997, the environmentalist organisation Greenpeace occupied the islet for a short time as a publicity stunt, calling it Waveland, to protest against oil exploration. Greenpeace declared the island to be a "new Global State" (in this case qualifying it as a micronation), and offered citizenship to anyone willing to take their pledge of allegiance. The British Government's response was simply to give them permission to be there, and otherwise ignore them. Indeed, when asked, the Home Office responded that since Rockall was part of the United Kingdom, and since the United Kingdom was a free country, Greenpeace were perfectly entitled to be at Rockall.
A 2013 occupation of the island by explorer Nick Hancock to raise money for the charity Help for Heroes was planned. The challenge is to land on Rockall and survive solo for 60 days, thereby setting a record for the longest occupation of Rockall. On 31 May 2013, Hancock, and a TV crew from The One Show, sailed to the islet aboard the Orca III, and he made his first unsuccessful attempt to land on the islet. The weather conditions at the time "were not favourable" according to a Maritime and Coastguard Agency official. Subsequently, Hancock postponed his challenge until 2014.
Ongoing talks have been held over the last five years[when?] with the aim of reaching an agreement which will end the dispute over territorial rights to Rockall-Hatton basin.
Representatives from the UK, Ireland, Iceland, and Denmark, met in Reykjavík, Iceland in September 2007 for negotiations over territorial rights over the continental shelf in the area. The final boundary will be determined by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The parties have until May 2009 to submit reports to the commission, which it will take into account when determining the boundary. The involved nations have the option of submitting separate reports, or a joint one.
Ownership of the rock itself did not form part of the negotiations.
In November 2007, talks were held in Copenhagen. Here a template for a deal was secured by Irish, Danish, British and Icelandic diplomats.
As a follow-up to Copenhagen, the Government of Ireland was to host negotiations. They were due to commence in January 2008, but were postponed because of elections in the Faroe Islands. The talks are hoped to bring the four nations closer to reaching an agreement over the Rockall-Hatton basin. It is understood a final deal is not likely to be agreed at the Dublin meeting. The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time, Dermot Ahern said
There have certainly been protracted talks, but that is not unusual when one considers the complexity of the issue at hand and the competing interests. However, there was some progress made at the last talks in Copenhagen. I believe further progress can be made in Dublin. The deadline is May 2009 so we have time on our hands. It is in the interests of Ireland, UK, Denmark and Iceland to come to a deal on the division of the seabed area. We have come to outline agreements in relation to other parts of our seabed in the Atlantic. There is no reason ultimately why we also can't do a deal on this protracted issue. Finding a deal is a significant challenge but the rewards are there for future generations from all four countries.
In popular culture
The 1955 British landing, complete with the trappings such as the hoisting the flag, caused a certain amount of popular amusement, with some seeing it as a sort of farcical end to imperial expansion. The satirists Flanders and Swann sang a successful piece entitled "Rockall", playing on the similarity of the word to the vulgar expression "fuck all". Similarly, in The Goon Show episode "Napoleon's Piano" Seagoon made a less-than-triumphant landfall on Rockall with the titular piano. Rockall was the launching site for the prototype "Jet propelled guided NAAFI" in the Goon Show episode of the same name. Musty Mind, the parody of Mastermind on the lunchtime radio programme of Noel Edmonds featured a send-up subject, The Cultural and Social History of Rockall. And the cast of I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again claimed to have spent the break between two series of the programme making a "triumphant tour of Rockall".
Ben Fogle made a claim to Rockall by sticking a post-it note onto the rock bearing the words "Property of Ben Fogle" in his book Offshore.
In music, Irish rebel music band the Wolfe Tones released a track called "Rock on Rockall" that argues against the supposed British ownership of the rock and supports an Irish claim. English post-punk band Gang of Four reference the rock in the 1979 song "Ether" (from the album Entertainment!), in the line "There may be oil ... under Rockall," possibly a reference to the disputed exploitation rights. Icelandic jazz-funk band Mezzoforte in 1983 released a piece of music entitled Rockall. The House Band named their 1996 album after the island.
Comedian Tony Hancock recited a list of the dwindling British colonial possessions, ending with the words, "... and sweet Rockall."
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- [dead link]
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rockall.|
- Rockall.name – a complex website about the islet available in both English and Czech
- RockallIsland.co.uk – a website detailing the MSØIRC/p amateur radio expedition of 16 June 2005
- Rockall2011.com – a website advocating a charitable fund for soldiers based on a pending expedition to Rockall in 2011
- Rockall.be – a website on the MMØRAI/p amateur radio expedition to Rockall in 2011
- Waveland.org – official website of the former micronation Waveland based on Rockall
- 1955: Britain claims Rockall – "On This Day" story of British claim to Rockall from BBC's official website
- British journalist Ben Fogle attempts to claim Rockall
- Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs map showing all parties' claims to the continental shelf around Rockall.