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Who Owns Minerva Reef?

Why is it that governments often argue over the ownership of tiny, inconsequential places. For example, hundreds of soldiers died in the early ’80s when Argentina claimed the Falklands. And for decades Chile and Argentina threatened to go to war over three tiny islands in the inhospitable Beagle Channel. For nearly a half century Russia and Japan have been butting heads over the stormy Kuril Islands. And this month, according to cruiser reports, Fiji is exercising its claim to the remote Minerva Reefs, which were annexed by Tonga in 1972.

As this NOAA satellite photo shows, there really isn’t much to these tiny coral rings. So what’s all the fuss?


Why all the fuss? That’s the question of the day among some South Pacific cruisers. The two tiny rings of coral are renowned for excellent scuba diving, snorkelling, and fishing, but there’s evidently no possibility of development.

An email from Peter Sidler of the vessel Green Coral was forwarded to us with this report: "During the morning of November 20, we and one other sailing yacht entered the North Minerva Reef and anchored there. Three other boats were already there. One left immediately after we anchored. One other boat left around noon. On leaving the Minerva Reef, that boat was hailed by a patrol boat and questions about ‘where from’ and ‘where to’ were asked.

"Around 1:00 p.m. the three remaining boats anchored in the Minerva Reef were hailed by the patrol boat. Each yacht was asked about its last port, next port and if they had permission to anchor in the Minerva Reef. All three yachts had Vava’u, Tonga, as their last port, and at least one yacht said they had written permission for a stopover in Minerva Reef on their clearance. By then we still believed that we were talking to a patrol boat from Tonga. To our surprise they told us that the permission from Vava’u was no good, that we had to get permission from Suva, Fiji, and that we had to leave the Minerva Reef immediately.

"We and the other boats argued that we believed Minerva Reef to be Tongan territory but the only response we got was: ‘No, you have to get permission from Suva.’ We were given 30 minutes to prepare for departure and leave. We left the Minerva Reef angry and frustrated and continued our journey towards Opua."

We’ll continue to follow this story, and will hopefully be able to provide updates in the coming weeks.

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