South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands


(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA FACT BOOK)

 

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

Introduction The islands, which have large bird and seal populations, lie approximately 1,000 km east of the Falkland Islands and have been under British administration since 1908 – except for a brief period in 1982 when Argentina occupied them. Grytviken, on South Georgia, was a 19th and early 20th century whaling station. Famed explorer Ernest SHACKLETON stopped there in 1914 en route to his ill-fated attempt to cross Antarctica on foot. He returned some 20 months later with a few companions in a small boat and arranged a successful rescue for the rest of his crew, stranded off the Antarctic Peninsula. He died in 1922 on a subsequent expedition and is buried in Grytviken. Today, the station houses scientists from the British Antarctic Survey. Recognizing the importance of preserving the marine stocks in adjacent waters, the UK, in 1993, extended the exclusive fishing zone from 12 nm to 200 nm around each island.
History The Island of South Georgia is said to have been first sighted in 1675 by Anthony de la Roché, a London merchant, and was named Roche Island on some early maps, Pepys Island on others. It was sighted by a commercial Spanish ship named León operating out of Saint-Malo on 28 June or 29 June 1756, and in 1775 by Captain James Cook, who, after dismissing his find as “not worth the discovery”, went on to survey and map the island, make the first landing, claim the territory for the Kingdom of Great Britain, and name it “the Isle of Georgia” in honour of King George III. British arrangements for the government of South Georgia were first established under the 1843 British Letters Patent.

In 1882 a German expedition sent out to observe the transit of Venus was stationed at Royal Bay on the south-east side of the island.

Throughout the 19th century South Georgia was a sealers’ base and, in the following century, a whalers’ base until whaling ended in the 1960s. The first land-based whaling station, and first permanent habitation, was established at Grytviken in 1904 by Norwegian Carl Anton Larsen. It operated through his Argentine Fishing Company, which settled in Grytviken. The station remained in operation until 1965.

Whaling stations operated under leases granted by the (British) Governor of the Falkland Islands. The seven stations, all on the north coast with its sheltered harbours were, starting from the west:
Prince Olav Harbour (from 1911–1916 factory ship and small station, land-based station 1917–1931)
Leith Harbour (1909–1965)
Stromness (from 1907 factory ship, land-based station 1913–1931, repair yard to 1960/1961)
Husvik (from 1907 factory ship, land-based station 1910–1960, not in operation 1930–1945)
Grytviken (1904–1964)
Godthul (1908–1929, only a rudimentary land base, main operations on factory ship)
Ocean Harbour (1909–1920)

With the end of the whaling industry the stations were abandoned. Apart from a few preserved buildings such as the museum and church at Grytviken, only their decaying remains survive.

From 1905 the Argentine Meteorological Office cooperated in maintaining the meteorological observatory at Grytviken under the British lease requirements of the whaling station until these changed in 1949.

In 1908 the United Kingdom issued a further Letters Patent to establish constitutional arrangements for its possessions in the South Atlantic. As well as South Georgia, the Letters Patent covered the South Orkneys, the South Shetlands, the South Sandwich Islands, and Graham Land. (The claim was extended in 1917 to also include a sector of Antarctica reaching to the South Pole.) From 1909 an administrative centre and residence was established at King Edward Point on South Georgia, near the whaling station of Grytviken. A permanent local British administration and resident Magistrate exercised effective possession, enforcement of British law, and regulation of all economic, scientific and other activities in the territory, which was then governed as the Falkland Islands Dependencies.

In April 1916, Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition became stranded on Elephant Island, some 800 miles south west of South Georgia. Shackleton and five companions set out in a small boat to summon help, and on May 10, after an epic voyage, they landed at King Haakon Bay on South Georgia’s south coast. They then covered 22 miles overland to reach help at Stromness whaling station. The remaining 22 members of the expedition, who had stayed on Elephant Island, were all subsequently rescued. In January 1922, during a later expedition, Shackleton died on board ship off South Georgia. He is buried at Grytviken.

Argentina claimed South Georgia in 1927.

During World War II, the Royal Navy deployed an armed merchant vessel to patrol South Georgian and Antarctic waters against German raiders, along with two four-inch shore guns (still present) protecting Cumberland Bay and Stromness Bay, manned by volunteers from among the Norwegian whalers. The base at King Edward Point was expanded as a research facility in 1949/1950 by the British Antarctic Survey (until 1962 called Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey).

The Falklands War was precipitated on 19 March 1982 when a group of Argentinians, posing as scrap metal merchants, occupied the abandoned whaling station at Leith Harbour on South Georgia. On April 3 the Argentine troops attacked and occupied Grytviken. Among the commanding officers of the Argentine Garrison was Alfredo Astiz, a Captain in the Argentine Navy who, years later, was convicted of felonies committed during the Dirty War in Argentina.

The island was recaptured by British forces on 25 April (Operation Paraquet). From 1985, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands ceased to be administered as a Falkland Islands Dependency and became a separate territory. The King Edward Point base, which had become a small military garrison after the Falklands war, returned to civilian use in 2001 and is now operated by the British Antarctic Survey.

South Sandwich Islands

The southern eight islands of the Sandwich Islands Group were discovered by James Cook in 1775; the northern three by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen in 1819.[clarification needed] They were named “Sandwich Land” by Cook after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, 1st Lord of the Admiralty. The word “South” was later added to distinguish them from the “Sandwich Islands,” now known as “Hawaii”.

The United Kingdom formally annexed the South Sandwich Islands through the 1908 Letters Patent, grouping them with other British-held territory in Antarctica as the Falkland Islands Dependencies.

Argentina claimed the South Sandwich Islands in 1938, and challenged British sovereignty in the Islands on several occasions. From January 25, 1955, through summer of 1956 Argentina maintained the summer station Teniente Esquivel at Ferguson Bay on the southeastern coast of Thule Island. From 1976 to 1982, Argentina maintained a naval base named Corbeta Uruguay, at Port Faraday, in the lee (southern east coast) of the same island. Although the British discovered the presence of the Argentine base in 1978, protested and tried to resolve the issue by diplomatic means, no effort was made to remove them by force until after the Falklands War. The base was eventually removed on June 20, 1982.

On 10 February 2008, a small earthquake of magnitude 6.5 on the Richter Scale had its epicentre 205 km SSE of Bristol Island.[4] On June 30, 2008 at 06:17:53 UTC, an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 struck the region. Its epicentre was at 58.160S 21.893W, 283 km (176 miles) ENE (73 degrees) of Bristol Island.

Geography Location: Southern South America, islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, east of the tip of South America
Geographic coordinates: 54 30 S, 37 00 W
Map references: Antarctic Region
Area: total: 3,903 sq km
land: 3,903 sq km
water: 0 sq km
note: includes Shag Rocks, Black Rock, Clerke Rocks, South Georgia Island, Bird Island, and the South Sandwich Islands, which consist of 11 islands
Area – comparative: slightly larger than Rhode Island
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: NA km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm
Climate: variable, with mostly westerly winds throughout the year interspersed with periods of calm; nearly all precipitation falls as snow
Terrain: most of the islands, rising steeply from the sea, are rugged and mountainous; South Georgia is largely barren and has steep, glacier-covered mountains; the South Sandwich Islands are of volcanic origin with some active volcanoes
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mount Paget (South Georgia) 2,934 m
Natural resources: fish
Land use: arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (largely covered by permanent ice and snow with some sparse vegetation consisting of grass, moss, and lichen) (2005)
Irrigated land: 0 sq km
Natural hazards: the South Sandwich Islands have prevailing weather conditions that generally make them difficult to approach by ship; they are also subject to active volcanism
Environment – current issues: NA
Geography – note: the north coast of South Georgia has several large bays, which provide good anchorage; reindeer, introduced early in the 20th century, live on South Georgia
Politics Executive power is vested in The Queen and is exercised by the Commissioner, a post held by the Governor of the Falkland Islands. The current Commissioner is Alan Huckle; he became Commissioner on 25 August 2006. A Chief Executive Officer (Harriet Hall) deals with policy matters and is also Director of SGSSI Fisheries, responsible for the allocation of fishing licenses. An Executive Officer (Richard McKee) deals with administrative matters relating to the territory. The Financial Secretary and Attorney General of the territory are appointed ex officio similar appointments in the Falkland Islands’ Government.

As there are no permanent inhabitants on the islands, there is no legislative council and no elections are held. The UK Foreign Office manages the foreign relations of the territory. Since 1982, the territory celebrates Liberation Day on June 14.

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