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Clipperton Island (France)

Last modified: 2013-08-17 by ivan sache
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[French flag]

Flag of France - Image by Željko Heimer, 22 September 2001


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Presentation of Clipperton Island

Clipperton, aka Île de la Passion, is located 1,280 km from the nearest continental coast (Acapulco, Mexico), 4,018 km from the nearest French territory (Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia) and 4,930 km from Hawaii.
Clipperton is a coral ring placed on the top of volcanic rocks, which emerge in the south- eastern part of the crown to form a 29-m high spur. The size of the atoll is 3 x 4 km, with 1.7 sq. km of emerged land. There were originally two small passes cutting the ring but they were filled in in the 19th century, most probably during storms. It is highly probable, however, that the former south-eastern pass will naturally open again in the future. Clipperton is therefore one of the 11 fully closed atolls in Pacific, along with Hull, Malden and Washington (Kiribati), Lindsay (Midway), Odtia (Marshall Islands), Kita Daito Jima (Japan), Tukeia, Taiaoro, Puka-Puka, Niau and Vana-Vana (Tuamotu, French Polynesia). Because of the presence of the rocky spur, Clipperton is sometimes called a quasi-atoll.

Ivan Sache, 1 November 2009


Status of Clipperton Island

Clipperton is a State-owned public domain (domaine public de l'État), as prescribed by an Interministerial Decree signed on 18 March 1986 and published in the French official gazette on 20 March 1986. Beforehand, Clipperton belonged to the State-owned private domain; the change in the status was required for a better protection of the atoll and to avoid its industrial exploitation. Accordingly, Clipperton is neither an Overseas Territory nor a part of French Polynesia; bills tabled to incorporate the atoll to French Polynesia have all been rejected, for the last time on 21 February 1986.
Law No. 2007-224 of 21 February 2007, published in the French official gazette on 22 February 2007, prescribes that Clipperton should be managed by the Minister in charge of the Overseas Departments and Territories, who delegates his powers to the Higher Commissioner of French Polynesia; the French continental Law (droit métropolitain) is fully applied in Clipperton, which, however, does not belong to the European Union.

Access to Clipperton is controlled by the rules of "public use", meaning that there are neither explicit regulations or prohibitions, and therefore free to French nationals. However, Article L.28 of the Code of State-owned Domain prescribes that "nobody is allowed to settle a dependency of the State-owned public domain without an authorization granted by the competent authority."
Foreigners need an access authorization. Anyway, visiting Clipperton is discouraged because of the isolation of the atoll and the very dangerous weather and navigation conditions.

Clipperton is the center of a huge Exclusive Economic Zone, spreading over 435,612 sq. km. The Zone was created by Decree on 3 February 1978 and extended after the ratification by France (Law No 95-1311, 21 December 1995) of the UN Convention on Maritime Law adopted in Montego Bay (Jamaica) on 10 December 1982. The Convention allows the states to increase their Exclusive Zone up to 200 nautic miles (370 km) from their coasts.
On 25 August 2005, the opening of the Exclusive Economic Zone of Clipperton to "exploitation" was officially announced by the French authorities. This was motivated by the crisis of fishing in French Polynesia and a dramatic increase in illegal fishing by foreign boats in the zone. Fishing inspection is mostly ran here by the frigate Prairlal of the French Navy.

Ivan Sache, 1 November 2009


History of Clipperton Island

The atoll was discovered on Good Friday 3 April 1711 by the frigates of the French Navy La Découverte and La Princesse, commanded by Martin de Chassairon and Michel du Bocage, respectively. They captioned their map of the atoll Isle de la Passion, that is "Passion Island". The usual name of the atoll refers to the English freebooter John Clipperton, who is said to have moored at the atoll in 1704 after having seceded from William Dampier's expedition; there is, however, no written proof of this event.
Nothing significant happened until 1858, when France, interested in the phosphate resource (guano) of the atolls, officially took possession of Clipperton; Lieutnant Le Coët de Kerveguen presented a copy of the document, dated 17 November 1858, to the government of Hawai. France, however, did not allocate funds to phosphate exploitation, which was managed, for short periods, by English and Mexican settlers (1893-1897) commissioned by the Oceanic Phosphate Company.
In September 1897, the French flagship Duguay-Trouin moored at Clipperton; the American flag left by the last miners was replaced by the French flag but no attempt of colonization was made.

On 13 December 1897, the Mexican warship Democrata transported to the island a military detachment to highlight the Mexican rule over Clipperton; the sovereignty claim was backed up by traditions saying that Isla de la Passion had been discovered by Spanish galleons long before the 1711 French expedition. The Spaniards would have concealed their discovery, especially on maps, to protect it from enemies and pirates.
On 11 September 1905, the Korrigan II left on Clipperton Lieutnant Arnaud, appointed Governor of Clipperton, a sergent, ten soldiers and their families, and 60 Italian workers hired to extract guano. On 26 June 1914, the Cleveland was commissionned to repatriate the colony to Mexico because of the First World War, but Arnaud refused and stayed on the island with some 30 colonists.
The "Clipperton Forgotten" hardly survived without external support and the colony was decimated by scorbut. Believing they had seen a ship coming, Arnaud and the last man but the lighthouse keeper Victoriano Alvarez embarked on a small boat, which was quickly broken by the waves and caused their death. Remained alone with three women and several children, Alvarez proclaimed himself King of Clipperton and ruled by terror on the small colony. In 1917, USS Yorktown, checking the atoll for a possible German base, found three women, one teenager and seven children watching the body of Alvarez, killed by the women with a hammer on the previous day. Back to Mexico, the three women were acquitted.

In 1931, King of Italy Victor-Emmanuel III, commissioned by the International Court of Justice in ... 1909, eventually stated that Clipperton was a French possession. Sovereignty over Clipperton is no longer an issue between France and Mexico, even if a few Mexican politicians and activists have attempted to reopen the dispute.
On 26 January 1935, the Jeanne d'Arc reestablished the French possession of the island, which was incorporated to the "Éacute;tablissements français de l'Océanie" on 12 June 1936 but was visited only a few times by the French Navy.
From 22 December 1944 to 23 October 1945, Clipperton was occupied by the American Navy, via the "Island X" secrete operation commanded by Rear Admiral Lowry. The Americans built a weather station, an airfield and a few buildings (all long disappeared).
On 6 June 1966, the first Bougainville Mission, ordered by General de Gaulle, landed on Clipperton. From 1966 to 1969, four other missions, of four-six months each, allowed:
- to settle the atoll, to forbid access to foreign fleets and to organize scientific missions with foreign researchers (especially Americans);
- to set up and operate a weather station;
- to write a monography on the atoll, and to evaluate possible sites for an airfield and hydroplanes.

Clipperton has been recently studied by two international scientific missions placed under French leadership. In 2001, the Passion 2001 expedition, chaired by Christian Jost, provided updated data on the geography, environment, water resources and management constraints of the atoll.
The bigger Expédition Clipperton, chaired by Jean-Louis-Étienne, involving the permanent settlement of a big team from December 2004 to April 2005 and widely popularized in the media, yielded a comprehensive inventory of the Clipperton ecosystem.

Ivan Sache, 1 November 2009


Flag on Clipperton Island

The French flag is hoisted over the atoll during each visit by the French Navy. See for instance photos taken in 2001 near the stele commemorating the Bougainville Missions during the Passion 2001 expedition.

Ivan Sache, 1 November 2009


Clipperton DX Club (Ham radio)

[Flag of C.DX.C]         [Flag of C.DX.C]

Flag of C.DX.C - Images by Ivan Sache, 1 November 2009

Clipperton DX Club (C.DX.C) was founded in July 1978 by the French members of the French-Swiss expedition on Clipperton Island, 20-27 March 1978.

The flag of C.DX.C is white with the logo of the club in the middle; it can be seen on photos taken on Clipperton Island, 9-15 March 2008, on the Laccadives Islands, 15-25 January 2007, and in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, 1-23 September 2006.

Another flag use by the club is a French Tricolor flag with the club's logo in the middle, shown on photos taken on Salut Islands, French Guyana, 7-17 March 2005, in Togo and on Europa Island, Indian Ocean.
This flag is not a "Clipperton flag" of any kind.

The logo of C.DX.C shows the map of the island, with the atoll in dark blue and the lagoon in light blue, charged with "CLIPPERTON / DX CLUB" in black and the coordinates of the island (109º13'W, 10º18'N), in black, too.

Ivan Sache, 1 November 2009