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Clipperton / Ile de la Passion - History

The island of Clipperton has had an incredible history, from rumors of hidden treasure left by the British pirate John Clipperton, to the struggles between Mexico and France over its ownership (including the horrific and tragic events there in 1917) in the early twentieth century to the little known fact that President Roosevelt visited there twice during the Second World War with a view to establishing it as a military base for the United States.

Annexed by France in 1855 and claimed by the US, it was seized by Mexico in 1897. An attempt to colonize the atoll in the early 20th century ended in disaster and was abandoned in 1917. Arbitration eventually awarded the island to France in 1931, which took possession in 1935. The island was abandoned by the end of World War II after being briefly occupied by the US from 1944–45. Since then it has been visited by sport fishermen, patrols of the French Navy, and by Mexican tuna and shark fishermen.

Clipperton Island was originally discovered by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, but was later named after John Clipperton, an English pirate who led a mutiny against William Dampier in 1704. It has been rumored that Clipperton hid some treasures on the atoll. In 1708, two French ships 'Princess' and 'Découverte' reached the island and named it 'Ile de la Passion', and annexed it for France. In March 1711, the French frigates La Princesse and La Découverte set sail from Peru to China, in search of silk and gold. On the way, the King's sailors saw, in the middle of the ocean, an island emerging from nowhere, which they baptized Island of the Passion because they discovered it on Good Friday, the day of the Passion of Christ. The first scientific expedition took place in 1725 by Frenchman M.Bocage, who lived on the island for several months.

For over one hundred years, "The Passion" fell back into oblivion until the exploitation of the Guano in the Pacific islands at the end of the XIXth century revived the interest and the appetite of the Americans and the Mexicans who occupy the atoll. Clipperton was found again by an American guano mining company. The treaty of Guano was made in 1856, and the United States had rights for guano mining on Clipperton. In 1857, the French declared (under heavy American) protest that Clipperton was a part of Tahiti.

Other claimants included the United States, whose American Guano Mining Company claimed it under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. The Oceanic Phosphate Company took possession of Clipperton Island in 1885, and since that time has been steadily shipping guano to San Francisco and Honolulu, receiving from $10 to $20 a ton for it. In August of 1896 several shiploads were sent from the island, the revenue from the sale of which the Mexican government claims.

Under date of April 4th, 1895, at a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Oceanic Phosphate Company, the legal owners of Clipperton Island and its Guano deposits, situated about 110° W. 10° N. in the Pacific, I was authorized to issue a set of stamps, illustrating features of Clipperton Island. These stamps were intended for local use between Clipperton Island and San Francisco and as an advertisement for the products of Clipperton Island only.

Mexico also claimed it due to activities undertaken there as early as 1848–1849. On 17 November 1858 Emperor Napoleon III annexed it as part of the French colony of Tahiti. The Mexican government attempted to compel the Oceanic Phosphate Company to pay an indemnity of $1,500,000 for unlawfully shipping guano from Clipperton Island, in the Pacific Ocean. Although the Mexican government claimed the ownership of this island, and presumed to the right to demand this indemnity for the foreign encroachment upon its territory, the phosphate company was equally convinced that it has as much right to the island as the Mexicans. But after several years of no permanent settlement on the island, Mexico occupied the island in 1897 and established a military outpost on the island.

In the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean it showed like a mere speck, so small as to be of no value, seemingly, save as a refuge for a few of the army of beech-combers who have burst all bounds of habit and have wandered far away in the course of their downward progress. But by 1899 the ownership of Clipperton Island was claimed by no fewer than four countries — Mexico, the United States, France and Great Britain; and when it is added that the island is a favorite haunt of sea birds, and that many tons of valuable guano are waiting to be picked up, the reason for this unwonted solicitude even in an era of land-grabbing was apparent.

Clipperton Island was of interest in another direction. It is one of those numerous stretches of land set in the midst of the seas, sunny and otherwise, which, after their first discovery, for many years eluded all endeavors to locate them again. By 1899 it had been, as it were, nailed down in one particular spot in the ocean — that is to say, its exact position had been finally determined by warships sent out for the express purpose of searching for it and settling all doubts as to its existence; and the only thing remaining now was that the question of ownership should be settled.

Clipperton at one time was an island nobody wanted. Then it became an island everyone wanted. Mexican Marines replaced "Old Glory" with the "Buzzard and Snake." Roosevelt renamed it "Island X." In 1906, the British 'Pacific Island Company' annexed the island, and built a settlement together with the Mexican government in order to mine guano. In that year, a lighthouse was also erected. In 1914, about 100 people, mixed men and women, lived on the island. Every two months, a ship from Acapulco went to the island to bring food. However, with the start of the Mexican civil war, the atoll was no longer reachable by ship, and the people on the island were on their own.

By 1915, most of the inhabitants had died, and the last settlers wanted to leave on the American war ship 'Lexington' which had reached the atoll in late 1915. However, the Mexican military Governor declared that evacuation was not necessary. By 1917, most of the men had died and only the lighthouse keeper was living along with 15 women on the island. In July 1917, three women were the only ones alive and were picked up by the American ship 'Yorktown'.

Ownership of Clipperton was then disputed between France and Mexico. France approached the Vatican for a decision on who owned the lonely atoll, far offshore. In 1930, the Vatican gave the rights to the King of Italy, Victor Emanuel II, who declared one year later that Clipperton was a part of France. The rivalries between France and its Mexican neighbor were exacerbated until an international arbitration in 1931 definitely attributed Clipperton to France. After the confirmation of French sovereignty by an arbitration of Victor Emmanuel III of Italy in 1931, a decree of 12 June 1936 attached it to the "Government of the French Establishments of Oceania".

As part of the maritime public domain, and as such entered in the State property register by virtue of an interministerial decree of 18 March 1986, the Clipperton Atoll was placed under the jurisdiction of the High Commissioner of the Republic In French Polynesia, representing the State.

Due to its remoteness and its oceanic character, the seamen therefore regularly visited this end of France to carry out missions of surveillance and sovereignty. When Clipperton was finally declared as a French possession, the lighthouse was rebuilt and the French settled a military outpost on the island. The outpost only remained for there seven years and then the French abandoned it.

In the late 1930's, Clipperton was visited twice by President Franklin D. Roosevelt who wanted it to become an American possession for use as a trans-pacific air base, and in 1944 he ordered the navy to occupy the island in one of the most secret US operations of WW II. After the war it was abandoned, and has since only been visited by the French Navy and an occasional scientific or amateur radio expedition.

Before the adoption of the Convention on the Law of Sea, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, consortia of western countries and the Soviet Union divided the most profitable area of Clarion - Clipperton Island in the Pacific Ocean. On the conference on the Law of the Sea, the United Nations decided in its Resolution in 1982 that, if these consortia or states met certain conditions may be preferentially examined and prepared so as mining nodules as a pioneer investor in the restricted area, by the Preparatory Commission for the International Seabed Authority and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea).

Whereas the western countries (France, Japan and the consortium of Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, USA, and Canada) registered much more territory in a wealthy area of Clarion - Clipperton in comparison to Eastern Bloc, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (the initiative of the USSR, and discussions in the UN bodies) decided in 1986 on the possibility of countries in Eastern Europe and developing countries, individually or as a consortium, to apply for a pioneering investor status with the allocation of area on the seabed.

In 1987, based on the decision made by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the organization InterOceanMetal was founded (founding members USSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, East Germany, Cuba and Vietnam). Since then, the organization's task is to search for Polymetallic nodules, their afterward research and preparation for mining.

The fishing potential of the area is poorly known, as the French research organizations have not carried out systematic surveys of the resource; It is mainly composed of migratory species (tuna and tuna).

In 1981, the Overseas Academy of Sciences expressed the wish that the atoll be endowed with an economic life of its own. To this end, on 13 October 1986, an agreement to occupy the public domain of Clipperton was concluded between the High Commissioner of the Republic in French Polynesia, representing the State, and the Study Society, Development and Operation of Clipperton Island (SEDEIC), for the establishment and operation of a permanent fishing base in Clipperton. Given the economic constraints linked to the remoteness and the small size of the atoll, no studies have been carried out to realize this project. This project has been abandoned.

Clipperton's location enabled France, in 1973, to join the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), which opens one of the richest fishing areas in the world. France participates actively in the work of the IATTC, both within its permanent structures in La Jolla (California, United States of America) and at annual technical conferences.

Except for the foreign occupations and for the French those of the military missions known as "Bougainville" between 1966 and 1969 and of a "robinsonnade" in 2005 at the initiative of the explorer Jean-Louis Etienne, the island of Clipperton had never been inhabited sustainably. For now, the atoll and its surroundings are the paradise of industrial and sport fishermen, as its underwater depths are rich in tuna species.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2017 18:30:51 ZULU