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Serranilla Bank

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Title: Serranilla Bank  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Territories of the United States, List of sovereign states in the 1980s, Guano Islands Act, Foreign relations of Colombia, Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina
Collection: Atolls of Colombia, Atolls of the North Atlantic Ocean, Atolls of the United States, Caribbean Islands of Colombia, Colombia–honduras 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 Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, Islands of the West Caribbean, Reefs of the Atlantic Ocean, Territorial Disputes of Colombia, Territorial Disputes of Honduras, Territorial Disputes of Nicaragua, Uninhabited Caribbean Islands of the United States, Uninhabited Islands of Colombia, Uninhabited Islands of Honduras, Uninhabited Islands of Nicaragua
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Serranilla Bank

Serranilla Bank
Disputed islands
Serranilla Bank is located in Colombia
Serranilla Bank (Colombia)
Location Caribbean Sea
Coordinates [1]
Total islands 4
Major islands Beacon Cay
Administered by
Department San Andrés and Providencia
Claimed by
United States
Territory unorganized, unincorporated
Population 0
Serranilla Bank shown on satellite image.

Serranilla Bank (Spanish: Isla Serranilla or Banco Serranilla) is a partially submerged reef, with small uninhabited islets, in the western Caribbean Sea. It is situated about 350 kilometres (220 mi) northeast of Punta Gorda, Nicaragua, and roughly 280 kilometres (170 mi) southwest of Jamaica.[1] The closest neighbouring land feature is Bajo Nuevo Bank, located 110 kilometres (68 mi) to the east.

Serranilla Bank was first shown on Spanish maps in 1510. It is administered by Colombia as part of the department of San Andrés and Providencia.[2][3] Although the bank is currently occupied by Colombia,[4] it is subject to a sovereignty dispute involving Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Jamaica and the United States.


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


Serranilla Bank is a former atoll, now a mostly submerged carbonate platform consisting of shallow reef environments. It is about 40 km in length and 32 km in width, covering an area of over 1200 km2, almost entirely under water. Three small cays and two rocks emerge above the water to form the bank's islands. These are West Breaker, Middle Cay, East Cay, Beacon Cay and Northeast Breaker.[5] They are largely barren, with sparse vegetation of bushes and some trees. Most of the reef is drying and many shipwrecks are located in its vicinity.[6]

Beacon Cay is the largest islet in the Bank. It is overbuilt with small military facilities, which house a small rotating garrison of Colombian naval personnel. There is a lighthouse on a coral ledge in the southwest approach to the bank. It is a 33 m (108 ft) tall skeletal tower built atop a 3-storey crew residence. The lamp emits a focal plane beam of light as two white flashes every 20 seconds. The current lighthouse was first erected in 1982,[7] and was reconstructed in May 2008 by the Colombian Ministry of Defence. It is currently maintained by the Colombian Navy, and overseen by the state's Maritime Authority.[5][8][9]


The Serranilla Bank was first shown on Spanish maps in 1510. Since its discovery is has been 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.

Between 1982 and 1986, Colombia maintained a formal agreement with Jamaica which granted regulated fishing rights to Jamaican vessels within the territorial waters of Serranilla Bank and nearby Bajo Nuevo Bank.[10][11] In November 1993, the two states 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 banks.[12] 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.[13][14] The agreement came into force in March 1994.[11]

Nicaragua lays claim to all the islands on its continental shelf,[15] covering an area of over 50,000 km2 in the Caribbean Sea, including the Serranilla 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.[16][17]

The unincorporated United States territory.[21][24]

Honduras claims Serranilla Bank as part of its national territory in Article 10 of its Constitution.[25] In 1986, it agreed upon a maritime boundary demarcation with Colombia that excluded Honduras of any control over the bank or its surrounding waters.[3][26] The ratification of this boundary on 20 December 1999[27] proved to be controversial within Honduras, as it ensured that the state implicitly recognised Colombia's sovereignty over the claimed territory.[28] Nicaragua, which has not resolved its maritime borders with Honduras or Colombia, disputed Honduras' legal right to hand over these areas before the ICJ.[15][29] Despite the agreement with Colombia, however, the government has yet to officially renounce the claim in the Constitution.

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 Serranilla.[30]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Sailing Directions (Enroute), Caribbean Sea" (PDF) II (7th ed.).  
  2. ^ (Spanish) Armada de la República de Colombia: Forces and Commands — area is under the jurisdiction of Comando Específico de San Andrés y Providencia.
  3. ^ a b "Mapa Oficial Fronteras Terrestriales y Maritima Convenciones" (PDF).   An official map of Colombian borders, with treaty dates.
  4. ^ Lewis, M.; International Justice (20 April 2011). "When Is an Island Not An Island? Caribbean Maritime Disputes". Radio Netherlands International. Retrieved 2011-05-11. 
  5. ^ a b Sanandresislas — description and photographs of Serranilla Bank.
  6. ^ Shipwrecks in the Americas, Robert F. Marx. New York (1987), p414-17. ISBN 978-0-486-25514-9.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ "Contract No. 153" (PDF) (in Español).   Contract detail between Colombian Defense Ministry and private contractor, Tecnosoluciones Ltda, for the replacement of various metal lighthouse structures, including on Serranilla Bank.
  9. ^ "Grupo de Señalización Marítima del Caribe" (PDF) (in Español).   Photographs of Colombian lighthouses, with Serranilla Bank shown, pages 4–5.
  10. ^ "Fishing Agreement Between Jamaica and the Republic of Colombia" (PDF).   Fishing agreement which permits regulated fishing rights to Jamaican vessels around Bajo Nuevo and Serranilla Banks.
  11. ^ a b Charney, Jonathan;  
  12. ^ "Colombia Jamaica Joint Regime Treaty" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  13. ^ "Sentencia No. C-045/94" (in Español).   Review of the 1993 Maritime Delimitation Treaty between Colombia and Jamaica.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ a b c 'The Republic of Nicaragua v. The Republic of Colombia'', CCJ Case File"'" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  16. ^ (Spanish) El Espectador: Colombia could lose territory, despite the Hague failure
  17. ^ "Territorial and Maritime Dispute" (PDF).   Nicaragua v. Colombia, Preliminary Objections.
  18. ^ [ — lists the bank under the United States "U.S. Unincorporated Possessions"] . World Statesman. 
  19. ^ "Acquisition Process of Insular Areas". U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  20. ^ Moore, John Bassett; United States Government,  
  21. ^ a b "Acquisition Process of Insular Areas".   lists Serranilla Bank as an insular area under U.S. sovereignty.
  22. ^ (Spanish) Treaty of exchange between Colombia and the United States, 1972
  23. ^ "Revisions to the Table of Frequency Allocations" (PDF).   States on page 3 that Serranilla Bank is no longer under U.S. jurisdiction; transferred to Colombia effective September 1981.
  24. ^ "Application of the U.S. Constitution" (PDF). United States Government,   Page 39 states that U.S. sovereignty over Serranilla Bank 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 Serranilla Bank as an insular area.
  25. ^ (Spanish) Republic of Honduras: Political Constitution of 1982 through 2005 reforms
  26. ^ (Spanish) Treaty between Colombia and Honduras, 1986
  27. ^ (Spanish) Affirmation of Maritime Delimitation Treaty between Honduras and Colombia, 1999
  28. ^ "Key Elements of the Honduras-Nicaragua Territorial Conflict". Zamora, Augusto; Central American University. January 2000. Retrieved 2009-10-10. 
  29. ^ Nicaragua-Honduras Territorial Dispute De Mar, Rebecca. American University, June 2002.
  30. ^  

External links

  • Oceandots at the Wayback Machine (archived December 23, 2010) — aerial image of Serranilla Bank
  • Photos of the islands on Panaramio: [3] [4]
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