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Bajo Nuevo Bank

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Title: Bajo Nuevo Bank  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of sovereign states in the 1980s, Serranilla Bank, Guano Islands Act, Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, Political divisions of the United States
Collection: Atolls of Colombia, Atolls of the North Atlantic Ocean, Atolls of the United States, Bajo Nuevo Bank, Caribbean Islands of Colombia, Colombia–jamaica Relations, Disputed Islands, Insular Areas of the United States, International Territorial Disputes of the United States, Islands Claimed Under the Guano Islands Act, Islands of the West Caribbean, Reefs of Colombia, Reefs of the Atlantic Ocean, Territorial Disputes of Colombia, Territorial Disputes of Jamaica, Territorial Disputes of Nicaragua, Uninhabited Caribbean Islands of the United States, Uninhabited Islands of Colombia, Uninhabited Islands of Jamaica, Uninhabited Islands of Nicaragua
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Bajo Nuevo Bank

Bajo Nuevo Bank
Disputed islands
Other names: Petrel Islands
NASA image of Bajo Nuevo.
Bajo Nuevo Bank is located in Colombia
Location Caribbean Sea
Length 26 km (16 mi)
Width 9 km (5.6 mi)
Highest point unnamed location on Low Cay
2 metres (6.6 ft)
Administered by
Department San Andrés and Providencia
Claimed by
United States
Territory unorganized, unincorporated
Population 0

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 , with a lighthouse on Low Cay at . 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 currently controlled by Colombia,[1] it is subject to a sovereignty dispute involving Jamaica, Nicaragua, and the United States.


  • Geography 1
  • Territorial dispute 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Bajo Nuevo Bank is about 26 km (16 mi) long and 9 km (5.6 mi) wide. The satellite image shows two distinct atoll-like structures separated by a deep channel 1.4 km (0.87 mi) wide at its narrowest point. The larger southwestern reef complex measures 15.4 km (9.6 mi) northeast-southwest, and is up to 9.4 km (5.8 mi) wide, covering an area of about 100 km2 (39 sq mi). The reef partially dries on the southern and eastern sides. The smaller northeastern reef complex measures 10.5 km (6.5 mi) east-west and is up to 5.5 km (3.4 mi) wide, covering an area of 45 km2 (17 sq mi). The land area is minuscule by comparison.

The most prominent cay is Low Cay, in the southwestern atoll. It is 300 m (330 yd) long and 40 m (44 yd) wide (about 1 ha or 2.5 acres), no more than 2 m (6.6 ft) high, and barren. It is composed of broken coral, driftwood, and sand. The light beacon on Low Cay is a 21 m (69 ft) 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,[2] 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.[3][4]

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 claims the area as part of the department of San Andrés and Providencia.[5][6] Naval patrols in the area are carried out by the San Andrés fleet of the Colombian Navy.[7] Colombia maintains that it has claimed these territories since 1886, as part of the geographic archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia.[2] 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.[8]

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.[9][10] Jamaica's signing of this treaty was regarded by critics as a de facto recognition of Colombian sovereignty over the two banks.[10] The treaty is now extinguished, however, as Colombia declined to renew it upon its expiration in August 1986.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12][13] The exclusion circles were defined in the chart attached to the treaty as "Colombia's territorial sea in Serranilla and Bajo Nuevo".[10] The agreement came into force in March 1994.[10]

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.[8][14] The main cause of the dispute lies in the debated validity and applicability of the Esguerra-Bárcenas treaty, exchanged with Colombia in March 1928.[8]

The United States claim was made on 22 November 1869 by James W. Jennett[15] under the provisions of the unincorporated United States territory.[16][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 from 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]

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 Bajo Nuevo.[25]

See also


  1. ^ Lewis, M.; International Justice (20 April 2011). "When Is an Island Not An Island? Caribbean Maritime Disputes". Radio Netherlands International. Retrieved 2011-05-11. 
  2. ^ a b "Anexo 7" (PDF) (in Español). Colombian Government, Ministry of National Defence. August 1997. Retrieved 2009-12-22.  Legal status of the Banks of Serranilla and Bajo Nuevo, page 8.
  3. ^ "Contract No. 153" (PDF) (in Español). 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.
  4. ^ "Grupo de Señalización Marítima del Caribe" (PDF) (in Español).   Photographs of Colombian lighthouses, with Bajo Nuevo Bank shown, pages 4–5.
  5. ^ "Historia del Departamento Archipiélago" (in Español). 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.
  6. ^ "Mapa Oficial Fronteras Terrestriales y Maritima Convenciones" (PDF).   An official map of Colombian borders, with treaty dates.
  7. ^ (Spanish) Armada de la República de Colombia: Forces and Commands — area is under the jurisdiction of Comando Específico de San Andrés y Providencia.
  8. ^ a b c "Territorial and Maritime Dispute" (PDF).   Nicaragua v. Colombia, Preliminary Objections.
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ a b c d e Charney, Jonathan;  
  11. ^ Colombia Jamaica Joint Regime Treaty
  12. ^ "Sentencia No. C-045/94" (in Español).   Review of the 1993 Maritime Delimitation Treaty between Colombia and Jamaica.
  13. ^ "Continental, Coastal and Marine Ecosystems of Colombia, 1 of 36" (PDF).   Topographic map of the Colombia-Jamaica Joint-Regime Area, with the two exclusion circles shown.
  14. ^ International Court of Justice: Nicaragua v. Colombia — Press Release, 2001.
  15. ^ Moore, John Bassett;  
  16. ^ a b "Acquisition Process of Insular Areas".   Lists Bajo Nuevo Bank as an insular area under U.S. sovereignty.
  17. ^ (Spanish) Treaty of exchange between Colombia and the United States, 1972
  18. ^ "Application of the U.S. Constitution" (PDF). United States Government,   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.
  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. ^ , CCJ Case FileThe Republic of Nicaragua v. The Republic of Colombia
  24. ^ Nicaragua-Honduras Territorial Dispute De Mar, Rebecca. American University, June 2002.
  25. ^  

External links

  • U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Bajo Nuevo Bank
  • Website with a map of San Andrés and Providencia, Serranilla Bank, Bajo Nuevo Bank and Rosalind Bank
  • Aerial picture of Bajo Nuevo Bank at the Wayback Machine (archived 23 December 2010) — the website is related to San Andrés and Providencia.
  • WorldStatesmen — lists the bank under United States.
  • Rowlett, Russ. "Lighthouses of Northern Colombia". The Lighthouse Directory.  
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