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Jan Mayen - History

This desolate, arctic, mountainous island was named after a Dutch whaling captain who indisputably discovered it in 1614 (earlier claims are inconclusive). There appears to be uncertainty as to the first discovery of Jan Mayen. Icelandic annals record for the year 1194 the discovery of new land to the north. Previously, this discovery was held to relate to the Svalbard (Spitsbergen) archipelago. It is now believed to be equally likely that the discovery of 1194 in fact related to Jan Mayen.

Its rediscovery is linked to the quest by Britons and Dutchmen in the early seventeenth century for an alternative navigation route to the East Indies, north of the Eurasian or American continents, and to the exploitation of the whale stocks which were discovered in the process. Its present name is derived from observations by Jan Jacobszoon May in 1614.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, Jan Mayen attracted the interest of whalers. British, Dutch, Norwegian and Danish whalers developed a land-based hunt for whales, especially the bowhead. After a comparatively short span of time the bowhead whale stocks, which migrated along the coast of Jan Mayen, had been decimated. The whaling station on Jan Mayen was no longer utilized by the whalers after around 1650.

The resumption in the nineteenth century of human activity in the Jan Mayen region is linked to two simultaneous developments: the general awakening of scientific interest in the Arctic regions, and the expansion of Norwegian economic interest in northern waters.

The first detailed map of the island was drawn by William Scoresby Jr. around 1820. Jan Mayen was thereafter intermittently visited by scientific expeditions, including the Norwegian Northern Oceans Expedition in 1877. The first sustained scientific effort occurred during the First International Arctic Research Year, when an Austrian expedition wintered in Jan Mayen in 1882-83.

Norwegian sealing commenced in Jan Mayen waters in 1846. This activity attracted a number of vessels from several regions on the Norwegian mainland.

In 1906, Norwegian trappers for the first time wintered on Jan Mayen. Hunting (mainly for Arctic fox) was good, and in subsequent years other trappers found transport on sealers and occasional sailings. Some of these expeditions proved disastrous. Others were successful, and Jan Mayen became clearly and permanently established as a field of operations for Norwegian hunters.

Similar activities were carried out in East Greenland, where Norwegians erected huts in otherwise uninhabited and unutilized areas. At this juncture, there was a difference of opinion with regard to whether Denmark had established its sovereignty over East Greenland. Norway and Denmark nonetheless concluded a Convention of 9 July 1924, providingefor equal access and working conditions for Norwegian and Danish hunters, and the possibility for both Parties to set up wireless, meteorological and scientific stations in East Greenland. This Convention was concluded without prejudice to the views of either Party with regard to the question of sovereignty.

Several hunting expeditions on Jan Mayen during the First World War gave rise to the formulation of claims to property rights in the island. Such claims were common in those Arctic territories over which no State had established sovereignty. Property claims regarding Jan Mayen were registered with the Norwegian authorities.

In 1921, the Norwegian Meteorological Institutel established a permanent reporting station on Jan Mayen. In 1922, the Institute claimed rights ts ownership over parts of the island. In 1926 this claim was extended to cover the entire island. Public interest in Jan Mayen increased with its utilization for weather reporting, and suggestions were made for the annexation of the island by Norway. The practical protection of both public and private Norwegian interests would be improved by the establishment of governmental authority and an orderly administration on the island. The nation was again taking charge of its own destiny, and would be able to obtain for its people the secure dominion over those far-flung areas which Norwegians utilized to supplement the limited opportunities for farming and other land-based activities on the mainland and the coastal islands.

The Norwegian Government ascertained that there would be no opposition to Norway's annexation of the island. Thereupon, by Royal Decree of 8 May 1929, Norwegian sovereignty over Jan Mayen was proclaimed.

Since the Norwegian annexation, the meteorological station has been maintained on a permanent basis. The Norwegian Polar Research Institute carried out a complete mapping of the island, and has conducted a broad scientific survey of the island.

After the German occupation of Norway in 1940, the staff of the meteorological station was evacuated to the United Kingdom by a Norwegian naval vessel, and the radio transmitter rendered inoperative. Later, an attempt by German forces to establish their own meterological post on Jan Mayen was thwarted. That attempt led to the dispatch in March 1941 of a small Norwegian garrison to Jan Mayen from their main base in the United Kingdom. From then on, and for the duration of the war, the garrison was maintained. Norwegian and United States military personnel provided indispensable meteorological and radio-locating services without interruption.

The meteorological installations were extended and modernized after the Second World War. The station has continued to serve as an important source of data for both Norwegian and international meteorological services, even after data derived from weather observation vessels and satellite recordings became available.

On 16 August 1988, the Government of Denmark filed in the Registry an Application instituting proceedings against Norway, by which it seised the Court of a dispute concerning the delimitation of Denmark’s and Norway’s fishing zones and continental shelf areas in the waters between the east coast of Greenland and the Norwegian island of Jan Mayen, where both Parties laid claim to an area of some 72,000 square kilometres.

On 14 June 1993, the Court delivered its Judgment. As regards the fishery zones, the Court was of the opinion that the application of the median line led to manifestly inequitable results. The Court concluded therefrom that the median line should be adjusted or shifted in such a way as to effect a delimitation closer to the coast of Jan Mayen.

A territory of Norway since August 1994, it was administered from Oslo through the county governor (fylkesmann) of Nordland; however, authority has been delegated to a station commander of the Norwegian Defense Communication Service. In 2010 Norway designated the majority of Jan Mayen as a nature reserve.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2017 18:08:15 ZULU