Serranilla Bank

Serranilla Bank (Spanish: Isla Serranilla, Banco Serranilla and Placer de la Serranilla)[2] is a partially submerged reef, with small uninhabited islets, in the western Caribbean Sea. It is situated about 350 kilometres (220 mi) northeast of Punta Gorda, Nicaragua, and roughly 280 kilometres (170 mi) southwest of Jamaica.[1] The closest neighbouring land feature is Bajo Nuevo Bank, located 110 kilometres (68 mi) to the east.

Serranilla Bank was first shown on Spanish maps in 1510. It is administered by Colombia as part of the department of San Andrés and Providencia.[3][4] Although the bank is an integral part of Colombia,[5] it is subject to a sovereignty dispute involving Honduras and the United States. On November 19, 2012, in regards to Nicaraguan claims to the islands, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found, unanimously, that the Republic of Colombia has sovereignty over Serranilla.[6]

Serranilla Bank
Disputed islands
Serranilla Bank is located in Colombia
Serranilla Bank
LocationCaribbean Sea
Coordinates15°50′N 79°50′W / 15.833°N 79.833°WCoordinates: 15°50′N 79°50′W / 15.833°N 79.833°W [1]
Total islands4
Major islandsBeacon Cay
Administered by
DepartmentSan Andrés and Providencia
Claimed by
United States
Territoryunorganized, unincorporated
Serranilla Bank marked satellite map
Serranilla Bank shown on satellite image.


Serranilla Bank is a former atoll, now a mostly submerged carbonate platform consisting of shallow reef environments. It is about 40 km in length and 32 km in width, covering an area of over 1,200 km2, almost entirely under water. Three small cays and two rocks emerge above the water to form the bank's islands. These are West Breaker, Middle Cay, East Cay, Beacon Cay and Northeast Breaker.[7] They are largely barren, with sparse vegetation of bushes and some trees. Most of the reef is drying and many shipwrecks are located in its vicinity.[8]

Beacon Cay is the largest islet in the Bank. It is overbuilt with small military facilities, which house a small rotating garrison of Colombian naval personnel. There is a lighthouse on a coral ledge in the southwest approach to the bank. It is a 33 m (108 ft) tall skeletal tower built atop a 3-storey crew residence. The lamp emits a focal plane beam of light as two white flashes every 20 seconds. The current lighthouse was first erected in 1982,[9] and was reconstructed in May 2008 by the Colombian Ministry of Defence. It is currently maintained by the Colombian Navy, and overseen by the state's Maritime Authority.[7][10][11]


The Serranilla Bank was first shown on Spanish maps in 1510 as Placer de la Serranilla. It was mentioned by Louis-Michel Aury whose ship was shipwrecked on it in 1820.[12] In later history it has been 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.

Between 1982 and 1986, Colombia maintained a formal agreement with Jamaica which granted regulated fishing rights to Jamaican vessels within the territorial waters of Serranilla Bank and nearby Bajo Nuevo Bank.[13][14] In November 1993, the two states 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 banks.[15] 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.[16][17] The agreement came into force in March 1994.[14]

Nicaragua lays claim to all the islands on its continental shelf,[18] covering an area of over 50,000 km2 in the Caribbean Sea, including the Serranilla 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.[19][20]

The United States' claim was made in 1879[21] and 1880 under the Guano Islands Act[22] by James W. Jennett.[23][24] Most claims made by the U.S. over the guano islands in this region were officially renounced in a treaty with Colombia, dated September 1972.[25] But whether or not Serranilla Bank was included in the agreement is disputed—there is no specific mention of the feature in the treaty and, as per Article 7 of the said treaty, only matters specifically mentioned in the document are subject to it. According to other records, as well as claims made within the ICJ, Colombia is recognised by the United States as having varying degrees of sovereignty over Serranilla Bank through the treaty of 1972, which took effect in September 1981.[18][26] The U.S. considers the reef to be an unorganized, unincorporated United States territory.[24][27]

Honduras claims Serranilla Bank as part of its national territory in Article 10 of its Constitution.[28] In 1986, it agreed upon a maritime boundary demarcation with Colombia that excluded Honduras of any control over the bank or its surrounding waters.[4][29] The ratification of this boundary on 20 December 1999[30] proved to be controversial within Honduras, as it ensured that the state implicitly recognised Colombia's sovereignty over the claimed territory.[31] Nicaragua, which has not resolved its maritime borders with Honduras or Colombia, disputed Honduras' legal right to hand over these areas before the ICJ.[18][32] Despite the agreement with Colombia, however, the Honduran government has yet to officially renounce the claim in the Constitution.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Sailing Directions (Enroute), Caribbean Sea" (PDF). II (7th ed.). National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. 2001: 95.
  2. ^ Derrotero de las islas Antillas y de las costas orientales de América p. 333
  3. ^ (in Spanish) Armada de la República de Colombia: Forces and Commands — area is under the jurisdiction of Comando Específico de San Andrés y Providencia.
  4. ^ a b "Mapa Oficial Fronteras Terrestriales y Maritima Convenciones" (PDF). Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi. Retrieved 2009-10-25. An official map of Colombian borders, with treaty dates.
  5. ^ Lewis, M.; International Justice (20 April 2011). "When Is an Island Not An Island? Caribbean Maritime Disputes". Radio Netherlands International. Retrieved 2011-05-11.
  6. ^ International Court of Justice (2012). "Territorial and maritime dispute (Nicaragua vs Colombia)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  7. ^ a b Sanandresislas – description and photographs of Serranilla Bank.
  8. ^ Shipwrecks in the Americas, Robert F. Marx. New York (1987), p. 414–17. ISBN 978-0-486-25514-9.
  9. ^ "Anexo 7" (PDF) (in Spanish). Colombian Government, Ministry of National Defence. August 1997. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-09. Retrieved 2009-12-22. Legal status of the Banks of Serranilla and Bajo Nuevo, page 8.
  10. ^ "Contract No. 153" (PDF) (in Spanish). Colombian Government, Ministerio de Defensa Nacional. February 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2009-10-23. Contract detail between Colombian Defense Ministry and private contractor, Tecnosoluciones Ltda, for the replacement of various metal lighthouse structures, including on Serranilla Bank.
  11. ^ "Grupo de Señalización Marítima del Caribe" (PDF) (in Spanish). Colombian Government, Ministry of National Defence. May 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2009-11-16. Photographs of Colombian lighthouses, with Serranilla Bank shown, pages 4–5.
  12. ^ Viaje del general Aury a Santafé por el Magdalena, Ch. XII, p.
  13. ^ "Fishing Agreement Between Jamaica and the Republic of Colombia" (PDF). United Nations. November 1982. Retrieved 2009-11-20. Fishing agreement which permits regulated fishing rights to Jamaican vessels around Bajo Nuevo and Serranilla Banks.
  14. ^ a b Charney, Jonathan; American Society of International Law (2004). International Maritime Boundaries, Vol. 2–3. Boston, United States: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 2616. ISBN 978-90-411-0345-1. p2179-2192.
  15. ^ "Colombia Jamaica Joint Regime Treaty" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-13.
  16. ^ "Sentencia No. C-045/94" (in Spanish). Government of Colombia, Secretaría del Senado. February 1994. Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2009-11-22. Review of the 1993 Maritime Delimitation Treaty between Colombia and Jamaica.
  17. ^ "Continental, Coastal and Marine Ecosystems of Colombia, 1 of 36" (PDF). José Benito Vives de Andréis Marine and Coastal Research Institute (INVEMAR). 2001. Retrieved 2009-12-22. Topographic map of the Colombia-Jamaica Joint-Regime Area, with the two exclusion circles shown.
  18. ^ a b c "The Republic of Nicaragua v. The Republic of Colombia, CCJ Case File" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-09. Retrieved 2011-11-13.
  19. ^ (in Spanish) El Espectador: Colombia could lose territory, despite the Hague failure
  20. ^ "Territorial and Maritime Dispute" (PDF). International Court of Justice. December 2007. Retrieved 2009-11-17. Nicaragua v. Colombia, Preliminary Objections.
  21. ^ [ — lists the bank under the United States "U.S. Unincorporated Possessions"] Check |url= value (help). World Statesman.
  22. ^ "Acquisition Process of Insular Areas". U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs. Archived from the original on 2012-04-14. Retrieved 2008-01-13.
  23. ^ Moore, John Bassett (1906). A Digest of International Law, Vol. 8. Washington, United States: Government Printing Office. p. 788. ISBN 978-1-4432-8111-9. p77.
  24. ^ a b "Acquisition Process of Insular Areas". United States Government, Department of the Interior. Archived from the original on 2012-04-14. Retrieved 2008-01-13. lists Serranilla Bank as an insular area under U.S. sovereignty.
  25. ^ (in Spanish) Treaty of exchange between Colombia and the United States, 1972 Archived 2011-05-24 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ "Revisions to the Table of Frequency Allocations" (PDF). United States Government, Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved 2008-01-13. States on page 3 that Serranilla Bank is no longer under U.S. jurisdiction; transferred to Colombia effective September 1981.
  27. ^ "Application of the U.S. Constitution" (PDF). United States Government, General Accounting Office. November 1997. Retrieved 2008-01-13. Page 39 states that U.S. sovereignty over Serranilla Bank 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 Serranilla Bank as an insular area.
  28. ^ (in Spanish) Republic of Honduras: Political Constitution of 1982 through 2005 reforms
  29. ^ (in Spanish) Treaty between Colombia and Honduras, 1986
  30. ^ (in Spanish) Affirmation of Maritime Delimitation Treaty between Honduras and Colombia, 1999
  31. ^ "Key Elements of the Honduras-Nicaragua Territorial Conflict". Zamora, Augusto; Central American University. January 2000. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  32. ^ Nicaragua-Honduras Territorial Dispute Archived 2009-09-27 at the Wayback Machine De Mar, Rebecca. American University, June 2002.

External links

Alice Shoal

Alice Shoal (Spanish: Banco Alicia or Bajo Alicia) is a wholly submerged reef, located in the western Caribbean Sea, about 260 kilometres (160 miles) southwest of Jamaica. The mainland of Colombia lies 740 kilometres (460 miles) away to the southeast.

Alice Shoal is situated 31 km northeast of East Cay of Serranilla Bank, and 48 km west of Bajo Nuevo Bank, at 16°05′N 79°22′W. The bank is about 16 km in diameter as defined by the 200 m isobath, which corresponds to an area of more than 200 km2. There are no islets, cays or above-water rocks. The bank has a minimum depth of 11 metres (36 feet), with coral bottom, at its eastern edge. Depths over the greater part of the bank are less than 63 metres (207 feet). The bottom is fine white sand. Rips mark the edges of the bank.

The reef falls within the Joint Regime zone of Colombia and Jamaica, a maritime delimitation zone which allows for co-operative control and exploitation of resources between the two states.

Bajo Nuevo Bank

Bajo Nuevo Bank, also known as the Petrel Islands (Spanish: Bajo Nuevo, Islas Petrel), is a small, uninhabited reef with some small grass-covered islets, located in the western Caribbean Sea at 15°53′N 78°38′W, with a lighthouse on Low Cay at 15°51′N 78°38′W. The closest neighbouring land feature is Serranilla Bank, located 110 kilometres (68 miles) 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. Although the bank is an integral part of Colombia, it is subject to a sovereignty dispute with the United States. On November 19, 2012, in regards to Nicaraguan claims to the islands, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found, unanimously, that the Republic of Colombia has sovereignty over both Bajo Nuevo and Serranilla Banks.

Caribbean monk seal

The Caribbean monk seal, West Indian seal or sea wolf (as early explorers referred to it; Neomonachus tropicalis) was a species of seal native to the Caribbean and is now believed to be extinct. The Caribbean monk seals' main predators were sharks and humans. Overhunting of the seals for oil and overfishing of their food sources are the established reasons for the seals' extinction. The last confirmed sighting of the Caribbean Monk Seal was in 1952 at Serranilla Bank, between Jamaica and Nicaragua. In 2008, the species was officially declared extinct by the United States after an exhaustive search for the seals that lasted for about five years. This analysis was conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Caribbean monk seals were closely related to the Hawaiian monk seals, which live around the Hawaiian Islands and are now endangered, and Mediterranean monk seals, another endangered species.

Guano Islands Act

The Guano Islands Act (11 Stat. 119, enacted August 18, 1856, codified at 48 U.S.C. ch. 8 §§ 1411-1419) is a United States federal law passed by the U.S. Congress that enables citizens of the United States to take possession, in the name of the United States, of unclaimed islands containing guano deposits. The islands can be located anywhere, so long as they are not occupied and not within the jurisdiction of another government. It also empowers the President of the United States to use the military to protect such interests and establishes the criminal jurisdiction of the United States in these territories.

Whenever any citizen of the United States discovers a deposit of guano on any island, rock, or key, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other Government, and not occupied by the citizens of any other Government, and takes peaceable possession thereof, and occupies the same, such island, rock, or key may, at the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to the United States.

The Act continues to be part of the law of the United States. The most recent Guano Islands Act claim was made to Navassa Island. However, the claim was discarded because an American court ruled the island was already under American jurisdiction (a claim Haiti disputes).

List of Guano Island claims

The United States claimed a number of islands as insular areas under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. Only the eight administered as the US Minor Islands and one each annexed by American Samoa and Hawaii remain as possessions of the United States. Any other unresolved claims if they exist are dormant, and have not been contested by the United States in many years with the exception of Navassa.

List of sovereign states and dependent territories in North America

This is an alphabetical list of sovereign states and dependent territories in North America. This list uses the most inclusive definition of North America, which covers the landmass north of the Panama-Colombia border, and the islands of the Caribbean. North America is the northern continent of the Americas, situated in Earth's Northern Hemisphere and almost totally in the Western Hemisphere. It is bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the southeast by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the North Pacific Ocean; South America lies to the southeast.

List of sovereign states in 1914

This is a list of every sovereign state that existed in the year 1914 and their capitals. It includes not only those states which had widespread international recognition, but also those states which were generally unrecognized. In addition, it includes all non-sovereign territories which were not integral parts of sovereign states.

Solar eclipse of September 10, 1923

A total solar eclipse occurred on Monday, September 10, 1923. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partly obscuring the image of the Sun for a viewer on Earth. A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon's apparent diameter is larger than the Sun's, blocking all direct sunlight, turning day into darkness. Totality occurs in a narrow path across Earth's surface, with the partial solar eclipse visible over a surrounding region thousands of kilometres wide.

The path of totality started at the southeastern tip of Shiashkotan in Japan (now in Russia) on September 11, and crossed the Pacific Ocean, southwestern California including the whole Channel Islands, northwestern and northern Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula, British Honduras (today's Belize), Swan Islands, Honduras, and Serranilla Bank and Bajo Nuevo in Colombia on September 10. The eclipse was over 90% in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara in the Southern California coast.

Territories of the United States

Territories of the United States are sub-national administrative divisions overseen by the federal government. They differ from U.S. states and Native American tribes, which have limited sovereignty. The territories are classified by incorporation and whether they have an "organized" government through an organic act passed by Congress.The U.S. currently has sixteen territories in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Five (American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are permanently-inhabited, unincorporated territories; the other nine are small islands, atolls and reefs with no native (or permanent) population. Of the eleven, only one is classified as an incorporated territory. Two territories (Bajo Nuevo Bank and Serranilla Bank) are defacto administered by Colombia. Territories were created to administer newly-acquired land, and most eventually attained statehood. Others, such as the Philippines, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau, later became independent.

Many organized incorporated territories of the United States existed from 1789 to 1959. The first were the Northwest and Southwest territories, and the last were the Alaska and Hawaii Territories. Thirty-one territories (or parts of territories) became states. In the process, some less-developed or -populous areas of a territory were orphaned from it after a statehood referendum. When a portion of the Missouri Territory became the state of Missouri, the remainder of the territory (the present-day states of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, most of Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana, and parts of Colorado and Minnesota) became an unorganized territory.Territorial telecommunications and other infrastructure is generally inferior to that of the U.S. mainland, and American Samoa's Internet speed was found to be slower than several Eastern European countries. Poverty rates are higher in the territories than in the states.

Time in the United States

Time in the United States, by law, is divided into nine standard time zones covering the states and its possessions, with most of the United States observing daylight saving time (DST) for approximately the spring, summer, and fall months. The time zone boundaries and DST observance are regulated by the Department of Transportation. Official and highly precise timekeeping services (clocks) are provided by two federal agencies: the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) (an agency of the Department of Commerce); and its military counterpart, the United States Naval Observatory (USNO). The clocks run by these services are kept synchronized with each other as well as with those of other international timekeeping organizations.

It is the combination of the time zone and daylight saving rules, along with the timekeeping services, which determines the legal civil time for any U.S. location at any moment.

United States Minor Outlying Islands

The United States Minor Outlying Islands are a statistical designation defined by the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 3166-1 code. The entry code is ISO 3166-2:UM. The minor outlying islands and groups of islands consist of eight United States insular areas in the Pacific Ocean (Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island) and one in the Caribbean Sea (Navassa Island).

The United States has a related territorial dispute with Colombia over administration of the Bajo Nuevo Bank and Serranilla Bank. These islands are not included in the ISO designation.

United States Miscellaneous Caribbean Islands

The United States Miscellaneous Caribbean Islands is an obsolete collective term for the territories currently or formerly controlled by the United States in the Caribbean Sea. Most of the islands were acquired through claims made via the Guano Islands Act:

Bajo Nuevo Bank (occupied by Colombia, claimed by the U.S., Jamaica and Nicaragua)

Corn Islands (returned to Nicaragua on April 25, 1971)

Navassa Island (U.S. unincorporated territory, claimed by Haiti)

Quita Sueño Bank (claim abandoned on September 17, 1981, occupied by Colombia)

Roncador Bank (ceded to Colombia on September 17, 1981)

Serrana Bank (ceded to Colombia on September 17, 1981)

Serranilla Bank (occupied by Colombia, claimed by the U.S., Nicaragua, Honduras and, until 1994, Jamaica)

Swan Islands (ceded to Honduras on September 1, 1972)The islands were given the FIPS country code of BQ before 1974. With the transfer of sovereignty of most of the islands, the FIPS country code of BQ now represents only Navassa Island, still controlled by the U.S.

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