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Bajo Nuevo Bank
Disputed islands
Other names: Petrel Islands
Bajo Nuevo.png
NASA image of Bajo Nuevo.
Bajo Nuevo Bank is located in Colombia
Bajo Nuevo Bank (Colombia)
Location Caribbean Sea
Coordinates 15°53′N 78°38′W / 15.883°N 78.633°W / 15.883; -78.633
Length 26 kilometres (16 mi)
Width 9 kilometres (5.6 mi)
Highest point unnamed location on Low Cay
2 metres (6.6 ft)
Administered by
Refer to Terriorial Dispute section
Claimed by
Department San Andrés and Providencia
 United States
Territory unorganized, unincorporated
Population 0

Bajo Nuevo Bank, also known as the Petrel Islands (Spanish: Bajo Nuevo or Islas Petrel), is a small, uninhabited reef with some small islets, covered with grass, located in the western Caribbean Sea at 15°53′N 78°38′W / 15.883°N 78.633°W / 15.883; -78.633Coordinates: 15°53′N 78°38′W / 15.883°N 78.633°W / 15.883; -78.633, with a lighthouse on Low Cay at 15°51′N 78°38′W / 15.85°N 78.633°W / 15.85; -78.633. The closest neighbouring land feature is Serranilla Bank, located 110 kilometres to the west.

The reef was first shown on Dutch maps dating to 1634 but was given its present name in 1654. Bajo Nuevo was rediscovered by the English pirate John Glover in 1660.



Bajo Nuevo Bank is about 26 km long and 9 km wide. The satellite image shows two distinct atoll-like structures separated by a deep channel 1.4 km wide at its narrowest point. The larger southwestern reef complex measures 15.4 km northeast-southwest, and is up to 9.4 km wide, covering an area of about 100 km². The reef partially dries on the southern and eastern sides. The smaller northeastern reef complex measures 10.5 km east-west and is up to 5.5 km wide, covering an area of 45 km². The land area is minuscule by comparison.

The most prominent cay is Low Cay, in the southwestern atoll. It is 300 m long and 40 m wide (about 0.01 km²), no more than 2 m high, and barren. It is composed of broken coral, driftwood, and sand. The light beacon on Low Cay is a 21 m (69 feet) metal tower, painted white with a red top. It emits a focal plane beam of light as two white flashes of light every 15 seconds. The beacon was erected in 1982,[1] and reconstructed by the Colombian Ministry of Defence in February 2008. It is currently maintained by the Colombian Navy, and overseen by the state's Maritime Authority.[2][3]

Territorial Dispute

Bajo Nuevo Bank is the subject of conflicting claims made by a number of sovereign states. In most cases, the dispute stems from attempts by a state to expand its exclusive economic zone over the surrounding seas.

Colombia currently administers the area as part of the department of San Andrés and Providencia.[4][5] Naval patrols in the area are carried out by the San Andrés fleet of the Colombian Navy.[6] Colombia maintains that it has claimed these territories since 1886, as part of the geographic archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia.[1] This date is disputed by other claimant states, most prominent among them Nicaragua, which has argued that Colombia had not claimed the territory by name until recently.[7]

Jamaica's claim has been largely dormant since entering into a number of bilateral agreements with Colombia. Between 1982 and 1986, the two states maintained a formal agreement which granted regulated fishing rights to Jamaican vessels within the territorial waters of Bajo Nuevo and nearby Serranilla Bank.[8][9] Jamaica's signing of this treaty was regarded by critics as a de facto recognition of Colombian sovereignty over the two banks.[9] The treaty is now extinguished, however, as Colombia declined to renew it upon its expiration in August 1986.[9]

In November 1993, Colombia and Jamaica agreed upon a maritime delimitation treaty establishing a "Joint Regime Area" to cooperatively manage and exploit living and non-living resources in designated waters between the two aforementioned banks.[10] However, the territorial waters immediately surrounding the cays themselves were excluded from the zone of joint-control, as Colombia considers these areas to be part of her coastal waters.[11][12] The exclusion circles were defined in the chart attached to the treaty as "Colombia's territorial sea in Serranilla and Bajo Nuevo".[9] The agreement came into force in March 1994.[9]

Nicaragua lays claim to all the islands on its continental shelf, covering an area of over 50,000 km2 in the Caribbean Sea, including Bajo Nuevo Bank and all islands associated with the San Andrés and Providencia archipelagoes. It has persistently pursued this claim against Colombia in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), filing cases in both 2001 and 2007.[7][13] The main cause of the dispute lies in the debated validity and applicability of the Esguerra-Bárcenas treaty, exchanged with Colombia in March 1928.[7]

The United States claim was made on 22 November 1869 by James W. Jennett[14] under the provisions of the Guano Islands Act.[15] Most of the guano islands claimed by the U.S. in the area of San Andrés and Providencia were officially ceded to Colombia in 1981, via a treaty signed in September 1972.[16] But whether or not Bajo Nuevo Bank was included in the agreement is disputed, as the bank is not mentioned specifically by name within the treaty. The U.S. administers the bank as an unorganized, unincorporated United States territory.[15][17] Persons born on Bajo Nuevo to non-citizens are considered by the United States to be U.S. nationals, but not U.S. citizens.[18]

Honduras, prior to its ratification of a maritime boundary treaty with Colombia on 20 December 1999,[19] had previously also laid claim to Bajo Nuevo and nearby Serranilla Bank. Both states agreed upon a maritime demarcation in 1986 that excluded Honduras of any control over the banks or their surrounding waters.[20][21][22] This bilateral treaty ensured that Honduras implicitly recognises Colombia's sovereignty over the disputed territories. Honduras' legal right to hand over these areas was disputed by Nicaragua before the ICJ.[23][24]

See also


  1. ^ a b (Spanish) "Anexo 7". Colombian Government, Ministry of National Defence. August 1997. Retrieved 2009-12-22.  Legal status of the Banks of Serranilla and Bajo Nuevo, page 8.
  2. ^ (Spanish) "Contract No. 153". Colombian Government, Ministry of National Defence. February 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-23.  Contract detail between Colombian Defence Ministry and private contractor, Tecnosoluciones Ltda, for the replacement of various metal lighthouse structures, including on Bajo Nuevo Bank.
  3. ^ (Spanish) "Grupo de Señalización Marítima del Caribe". Colombian Government, Ministry of National Defence. May 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-16.  Photographs of Colombian lighthouses, with Bajo Nuevo Bank shown, pages 4–5.
  4. ^ (Spanish) "Historia del Departamento Archipiélago". Government of the San Andrés Department. 2008. Retrieved 2009-12-20.  Description and general history of the Department of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina.
  5. ^ "Mapa Oficial Fronteras Terrestriales y Maritima Convenciones". Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi. Retrieved 2009-10-25.  An official map of Colombian borders, with treaty dates.
  6. ^ (Spanish) Armada de la República de Colombia: Forces and Commands — area is under the jurisdiction of Comando Específico de San Andrés y Providencia.
  7. ^ a b c "Territorial and Maritime Dispute". International Court of Justice. December 2007. Retrieved 2009-11-17.  Nicaragua v. Colombia, Preliminary Objections.
  8. ^ "Fishing Agreement Between Jamaica and the Republic of Colombia". United Nations. November 1982. Retrieved 2009-11-20.  Fishing agreement which permits regulated fishing rights to Jamaican vessels around Bajo Nuevo and Serranilla Banks.
  9. ^ a b c d e Charney, Jonathan; American Society of International Law (2004). International Maritime Boundaries, Vol. 2–3. Boston, United States: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 2616. p2179-2192. ISBN 9789041103451. 
  10. ^ Colombia Jamaica Joint Regime Treaty
  11. ^ (Spanish) "Sentencia No. C-045/94". Government of Colombia, Secretaría del Senado. February 1994. Retrieved 2009-11-22.  Review of the 1993 Maritime Delimitation Treaty between Colombia and Jamaica.
  12. ^ "Continental, Coastal and Marine Ecosystems of Colombia, 1 of 36". Colombia Institute for Marine and Coastal Investigation (INVEMAR). 2001. Retrieved 2009-12-22.  Topographic map of the Colombia-Jamaica Joint-Regime Area, with the two exclusion circles shown.
  13. ^ International Court of Justice: Nicaragua v. Colombia — Press Release, 2001.
  14. ^ Moore, John Bassett; United States Government, Department of State (1906). A Digest of International Law, Vol. 8. Washington, United States: Government Printing Office. pp. 788. p77. ISBN 9781443281119. 
  15. ^ a b "Acquisition Process of Insular Areas". United States Government, Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2008-01-13.  Lists Bajo Nuevo Bank as an insular area under U.S. sovereignty.
  16. ^ (Spanish) Treaty of exchange between Colombia and the United States, 1972
  17. ^ "Application of the U.S. Constitution". United States Government, General Accounting Office. November 1997. Retrieved 2008-01-13.  Page 39 states that U.S. sovereignty over Bajo Nuevo is disputed. "Currently, the United States conducts maritime law enforcement operations in and around Serranilla Bank and Bajo Nuevo consistent with U.S. sovereignty claims." This is the only archived document from this source that mentions Bajo Nuevo Bank as an insular area.
  18. ^ "Interoffice Memorandum". United States Government, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration. March 2008. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  19. ^ (Spanish) Affirmation of Maritime Delimitation Treaty between Honduras and Colombia, 1999
  20. ^ (Spanish) Treaty between Colombia and Honduras, 1986
  21. ^ (Spanish) Republic of Honduras: Political Constitution of 1982 through 2005 reforms
  22. ^ The American Society of International Law — see map at top of article.
  23. ^ The Republic of Nicaragua v. The Republic of Colombia, CCJ Case File
  24. ^ Nicaragua-Honduras Territorial Dispute De Mar, Rebecca. American University, June 2002.

External links



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