The small, isolated, inhospitable (and inhabited) island of Tromelin, located in the Indian Ocean north of Mauritius and the French Reunion island, and east of Madagascar (see map), has been the subject of passionate debate in recent weeks in France, both in the media (here and here) and within the Parliament (transcript of the debate before the French National Assembly).
Tromelin is a flat and small feature, about 1,700 metres long and 700 metres wide, with an area of about 80 hectares (200 acres). Its flora is limited, while the site is known to host significant numbers of seabirds. There is no harbour nor anchorages on the island, but a 1,200-metre airstrip, and there appears to be no continuous human presence.
Tromelin was discovered by a French navigator in 1722, and France today claims sovereignty over it by virtue of historical title (discovery of terra nullius) dating back to that date. The islet was the scene of a sad – and little known – episode of history as the place where approximately 60 Malagasy men and women were abandoned for 15 years in the 18th century after a French ship transporting slaves eschewed on the island. Most of the slaves died within a few months. The survivors were finally rescued in 1776, when Bernard Boudin de Tromelin, captain of the French warship La Dauphine, visited the island and discovered seven women and an eight-month-old child. Captain Tromelin also raised a French flag on the island – and his name was given to it.
French possession of Tromelin was interrupted by Britain which took control of the island in 1810. Then in 1954, the British gave their consent to France’s effective control over Tromelin. But sovereignty over Tromelin is still disputed, and the island has been claimed by the newly independent Mauritius since 1976, and reportedly also by Madagascar and the Seychelles (see V. Prescott, ‘Indian Ocean Boundaries’ at 3462-63). The controversy in France over Tromelin has led to the postponing of the ratification by the Parliament of a framework agreement entered into by France and Mauritius in June 2010, providing for joint economic, scientific and environmental management (cogestion) of the island and of surrounding maritime areas. Read the rest of this entry…