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Rockall is an isolated, uninhabited, pudding shaped sea-rock situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is tiny: only 19m high, 25m across and 30m wide. Rockall is located 57° N, 13° W, which puts it about 300 miles from the coasts of Scotland, Ireland, and Iceland. The sea area around it, also known as Rockall, is well known to ardent listeners of the North Atlantic Shipping Forecasts.
A bare granite quartz rock, formed by volcanic upheavals around 50 million years ago, Rockall's chemical composition identifies it as part of the North American continental plate. Nothing much lives there apart from colonies of gannets, seagulls and periwinkles1. Although it is the only piece of land in hundreds of square miles of open sea, it has been responsible for at least two major shipwrecks - the Helen of Dundee in 1824, and the Norge in 1904 when over 600 people were killed.
The United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, and strangely enough, Denmark, have been bickering for years regarding territorial rights to the place. This would seem at first glance a bit over the top, since limpets and gannet poo are found in abundance on all North Atlantic coasts. However, it's not what Rockall is that's important, it's what Rockall is on. Rockall sits on the Rockall Bank, a massive sea bank which geologists believe may contain significant amounts of natural gas and oil. Added to this are the lucrative fishing grounds surrounding the island. All this makes Rockall a highly coveted prize.
The British originally claimed ownership on Rockall in 1955. A number of 'annexation' forces actually climbed the rock to rubber-stamp the territorial claim. The UK Government subsequently passed an Act of Parliament in 1971 incorporating Rockall into Invernesshire in Scotland. They followed this by installing a navigational beacon on the island, and declaring that no craft would be allowed within 50 miles of the rock2. This prompted a fierce diplomatic fight where the status of Rockall as an island was put into question. Enter John Ridgeway and SAS man Tom McLean who, at separate times in the 1980s, climbed the rock and stayed there for one month, thus apparently validating Rockall's right to be an island, and therefore to be a sovereign part of British territory. This feat of endurance was broken in 1997, when Greenpeace activists landed on the island, stayed for 42 days, replaced the navigational beacon with a solar-powered one and declared Rockall the sovereign territory of Waveland, announcing that it was now, 'two steps closer to freedom from oil development and industrialisation'. The status of Rockall remains unresolved to the present day.
The story of Rockall has inspired a number of fascinating websites: The Rockall Times is an anarchic and hilarious website featuring highly satirical articles on the world's current affairs. You can also visit the Waveland Site and become a citizen of this new country!