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Gulf of Mexico EEZ / Isla Bermeja

The Gulf of Mexico is a small, geologically diverse ocean basin that can be divided into three distinct provinces: a salt deformation province underlying the continental slope in the northwest Gulf, the Mississippi Canyon and Fan system in the central Gulf, and a carbonate province along its eastern boundary.

US jurisdiction over waters off its coasts extends to the seaward limit of its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and to the outer limit of its continental shelf (Presidential Proclamation 5030 of March 10, 1983: Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States (48 Fed. Reg. 10605); Presidential Proclamation 2667 of September 28, 1945 (10 Fed. Reg. 12303).

Under the Treaty to Resolve Pending Boundary Differences and to Maintain the Rio Grande and Colorado River as the International Boundary (23 UST 371; TIAS 7313 (1972)), a maritime boundary was established, inter alia, in the western Gulf of Mexico extending approximately 12 nautical miles into the Gulf from the land boundary separating Mexico and Texas (the mouth of the Rio Grande River). That treaty entered into force in 1972. Mexico then claimed an exclusive economic zone, and the United States a fisheries management zone, extending 200 nautical miles from their shores. These zones overlapped in parts of the Gulf. Consequently, the U.S. and Mexico negotiated provisional boundaries in 1976 and, finding them to be satisfactory, incorporated them into a 1978 ``Treaty on Maritime Boundaries between the United States of America and the United Mexican States'' (``1978 Treaty'').

The 1978 treaty established a further delineation of the maritime boundaries between Mexico and the United States extending from the end of the previous boundary line to 200 miles into the western part of the Gulf of Mexico. The treaty also established a boundary line in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico where the zones overlapped, by virtue of each country's claim measured from Louisiana for the United States, and from several Mexican islands off the coast of Yucatan for Mexico.

In recommending US Senate advice and consent to the ratification of the 1978 Treaty establishing the EEZ maritime boundary, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee noted: "... the untapped reserves of crude oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico along the 200 nautical mile boundary and the technological advances that have made it more likely that U.S. companies will recover these oil and gas deposits. * * * Delimitation of the western gap has become increasingly important to U.S. interests as petroleum exploration has moved into deeper waters."

Between the western and eastern boundaries established by the 1978 Treaty there remained a substantial deep sea area of the Gulf (about 135 miles long and comprising approximately 6600 square miles) that lay beyond either of the claimed zones -- the so-called "Western Gap." The Clinton Administration expressed its intent to enter into negotiations with Mexico to delimit the continental shelf in the Western Gap once the 1978 Treaty was ratified. The Treaty between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Mexican States on the Delimitation of the Continental Shelf in the Western Gulf of Mexico beyond 200 nautical miles, was signed at Washington on June 9, 2000.

Prior to the 20th Century, sailors frequently mistook low clouds for land masses, and in later times this was given the name Dutch capes. In the English language, when something goes wrong, they put the word Dutch in front of it. Sometimes something “Dutch” is just Dutch. Strong nautical associations remain clear, as would be expected with two sea-faring nations. The term "Cape Fly-Away" was also used for a cloud-bank on the horizon, mistaken for land, which disappears as the ship advances.

Low-lying Bermeja Island was the official land point from which Mexico set its 200 nautical-mile economic zone. The existence of the uninhabited Mexican island - Isla Bermeja - around 100 miles offshore from the Yucatan was repeatedly attested from 1864 to 1946 in several documents and publications. With a surface area of 80 square km, it was much more than a simple rock. The coordinates (22°33'N by 91°22'W) were recorded with precision. In the Spanish language, the island in question is referred to as La Isla Bermeja (the Island Bermeja) or alternatively El Islote Bermejo (the Islet Bermejo). Bermeja/Bermejo is from an old Spanish word for blonde/reddish, from the island's color.

The island had been mentioned in the nautical literature since the 1500s and has appeared on various nautical charts throughout the intervening centuries. The first mention of Bermeja Island is in El Yucatan and Islas Adyacentes, General Islario of all the islands of the world, of Alonso de Santa Cruz, printed work in Madrid in 1539.

An explicit reference is found in Espejo de Navegantes, by Alonso de Chaves, where it is described: From the barren point to Cabo Redondo or the Unknown coast goes almost all the west, there are 70 leagues in the way; Makes the coast a little bow towards the north. In this place are the Alacranes, and islands of Arenas and Bermeja. The waters run all the way west. He also pointed out: Bermeja, an island in the Yucatan, is in 23º degrees (north latitude). It is to the west fourth to the northwest of Cape of San Anton, distant 14 leguas. It is to the west-northwest of the Alacranes, distant 55 leguas. It is northeast to the fourth east of Villa Rica, is 118 leagues distant. This is a small islet and that from a distance it looks red.

According to historian and cartographer Michel Antochiw Kolpa, one of the first maps in which Bermeja island is found dates from the sixteenth century and belongs to Portuguese cartography. This is the map of Gaspar Viegas of the year 1535, preserved in the Archive of Stato in Florence, Italy. In 1570 Abraham Ortelius placed it in his letter entitled Latin, America Nova Mundo Nova descriptio. Later, in 1544, a map of Sebastián Caboto appears, out of the Sevillian interest but printed in Antwerp, in which the existence of the island Bermeja, the island Triángulo, the island Arenas, the island Negrillos and the Arrecife Alacranes is recorded. Thus, says the cartographer Antochiw, since the middle of the sixteenth century the systematic representation of the islands of the Sonda de Campeche on maps of various schools of cartography, as if they were photocopies of the Portuguese version.

Bermeja north of Yucatan and Campeche states, had been mapped as far back as 1669. It was Spanish territory, then inherited by Mexico upon that country's independence. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is repeatedly shown in maps that were official or edited by or under the supervision of the Mexican government, but that no maritime verification is known in the region. The island was registered (1864) in the Etnographic Charter of Mexico, governmental edition, and also in the book "Mexican Islands" published officially by the Secretariat of Public Education, that on page 110 locates it at 22º33'North latitude, and 91º22'West. The precise coordinates of the island are mentioned in the Geographical, Historical and Biographical Dictionary of the United States, volume 1, of Antonio García Cubas; In the Mexican Islands, Secretariat of Public Education, Popular Encyclopedic Library, by Manuel Muñoz Lumbier, and in the Islands of the Mexican Republic , Bulletin of the Mexican Society of Geography and Statistics, volume 54, numbers 5 and 6, by Ricardo Toscano.

Bermeja appeared in a 1998 book of Mexican islands by the Interior Ministry, but in 1997, with the negotiations between Mexico and the USA to fix the boundary line between their respective EEZs, a Mexican military naval expedition came to the conclusion that the island had disappeared. Exploratory efforts by the Mexican government were unable to locate the island, leading the National Autonomous University of Mexico to conclude in a report to the Mexican Congress that the island doesn’t exist.

Thus the Clinton-Zedillo accords of 09 June 2000 did not take it into account. The boundary adopted awarded to the United States the major part of the enormous oilfield of Hoya de Dona, estimated at 22 billion barrels (which if Bermeja had existed would have gone to Mexico). Some hypothesized that natural erosion had caused the island to disappear while more cynical minds have lobbied accusations that the island was deliberately destroyed by American interests in oil drilling in the region. The official version of the Mexican government is that the island sunk naturally due to climactic and tectonic factors.

A document of the Navy Secretariat dated September 23, 1997, signed by Rear Admiral Néstor E. Yee Amador, director general of Naval Oceanography, addressed to the undersecretary of that institution on the reconnaissance carried out by the oceanographic vessel H-04 "Onjuku". The inspection, carried out on September 5 at 7:00 am by the vessel in the geographical location latitude 22°33 'N; longitude 091º22'W was: "not having found the alleged Islet Bermeja", reason why it made in the area a search pattern of 322.5 square nautical miles with a hydroacústico sweep, with negative results". The report described in the last paragraph of section III: "not having checked the depths for echo sounder limitations that exceed their detection capacity," and annexes mapping of the hydroacoustic sweep.

It was located by Miguel Ángel González Félix, legal adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Relations, who found the island lying 40 meters deep, as stated in the hearings on the Oil Reform Forum Act, held in the Senate on June 5, 2008. The Lic. Miguel Ángel González Félix, was Legal Adviser of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1994 to 2000, under the orders of Secretaries Angel Gurría and Rosario Green, together with Juan Rebolledo Gout, who coordinated the negotiation of the Treaty of Boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico. But the Banco de Campeche [Campeche Bank] is located at 22°00'00"N 090°00'00"W, not the 22º33'North latitude, and 91º22'West specified for Bermeja. The sepcified location of Bermeja is at a depth of several thousand feet of water off the Campeche Bank.

Another explanation is that the island simply never existed, that somebody mistook something else for an island back in the 1500s, and the maps just kept copying and recopying Bermeja Island through the centuries. That's called a "phantom island" and it's happened before.

The The Colombian Navigator: Or, Sailing Directory for the American Coasts and the West-Indies ... Composed ... from Many Valuable Documents and Surveys... of 1823 advised " ... to the west, taking soundings in 23°30' of latitude, and running along that parallel in 50 and 60 fathoms of water on a sandy bottom, keeping afterwards so as to pass to the north of the Bermeja; but we are very far from advising this route to be followed, from two reasons; first, because we have seen that there are well-founded fears of shoals on the north edge of this bank, which as yet is imperfectly explored; and sesond, because, in the summer, you could not enjoy the advantage oc the land-breezes ... It is evident that, to enter on the Campeche' Bank by its western edge, nothing more is necessary than the latitude; for, running on a free parallel, you proceed without risk of shoals on the bank; and, whatever may be the error of longitude, you can correct it so soon as you strike soundings: but it must be remembered that the tract between the New Shoal (Baxo Nuevo) and Bermeja Island, cannot be considered as clear; for we neither know the situation of the latter, nor are we even certain of its existence."

The Remarks On The Navigation Of The Gulf Of Mexico by Mr. P. Masters, Master Mariner, of Liverpool, 1844, noted "The Isla Bermeja is also very doubtful. I have made every inquiry about this shoal, and have been informed that neither island nor shoal is now in existence. I have also passed nearly over the position as laid down, and have not perceived the water to alter its colour in the least. It is more than probable that the Isla de Arenas has been taken for the Bermejas, as they arc laid down in the same longitude; and as the current is so much influenced by the wind, it is very likely that either by a norther or a strong S.E. breeze, that they may have been out in their reckoning with respect to the latitude."

Following an investigation in the Gulf of Mexico, the Institute of Geography and Marine Sciences and Limnology, UNAM concluded that there were traces of the Red Island at coordinates established in oceanographic charts of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. It ruled that the insula is found in other different coordinates or that, if it existed at latitude 22º33' north and longitude 91º22' in the western Gulf of Mexico, its disappearance could be explained by a landslide geology. At a press conference, scientists from UNAM, who accompanied the Planning Coordinator, Enrique del Val Blanco, explained at the Chamber of Deputies, which commissioned the investigation, the conclusion was the result of investigations of aerial observation of geohistorical analysis and mapping, as well as a cruise ship in the Justo Sierra to determine, by bathymetry, ocean depth at those coordinates.

The conclusion of the bathymetry was that "the point of interest has a depth of 1,472 meters and is in a flat bottom" and that therefore "there is no vestige of her island in the area probed". Also it was determined that that location had not been any island in more than 5,300 years, as established from an analysis of the approximate age of the surface of the sea floor.

Mexican conspiracy theories claim the CIA blew up the island to expand the economic zone allotted to the United States.

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Page last modified: 16-07-2017 18:20:20 ZULU