From Academic Kids

Missing image
Location of Rockall. Shaded areas indicate exclusive economic zones.

Rockall is a small, rocky islet in the North Atlantic but is probably better known as one of the British Sea Areas named in the Shipping Forecast broadcast on BBC Radio 4. The status of the surrounding ocean floor is disputed between the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Denmark (for the Faroe Islands), and Iceland.

The island itself is an uninhabitable rock without an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of its own. This is no longer disputed but the UK claimed before 1997 that the island should be taken into account for the purposes of delineating the boundaries of economic zones in the area. The current dispute revolves around continental shelf rights in the area. These are the exclusive rights to exploit any resources on or under the ocean floor (oil, natural gas, etc.) and should not be confused with the EEZ as continental shelf rights do not carry any privileges with regard to fisheries.

The origin of the name is debatable but it has been suggested that it derives from the Gaelic "Sgeir ( Rocail (" which is often translated as "Roaring Rock" although "rocail" is more usually translated as "tearing" or "ripping" (see link).

The first literary reference to the isle, where it is called Rockol, is found in Martin Martin's A Description of the Western isles of Scotland published in 1716 where he gives an account of a voyage to Saint Kilda where the locals knew the isle as Rockabarra (Rocabarraigh). Interestingly, the name Rocabarraigh is also used in Gaelic folklore for a mythical rock which is supposed to appear three times, the last being at the end of the world.

"Nuair a thig Rocabarra ris, is dual gun tid an Saoghal a sgrios".
(When Rocabarra returns, the world will likely come to be destroyed/ruined)


The rock is the summit of an extinct volcano and is located at Template:Coor dms. It is about 480 kilometres (300 miles) west of Manish Point, North Uist in Scotland. It is 424 kilometres (265 miles) north-west of Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. The rock is about 25 metres (83 feet) wide at its base and rises sheer to a height of approximately 22 metres (72 feet). It is regularly washed over by large storm waves, particularly in winter. There is a small ledge of 3.5 metres by 1.3 metres (11 feet by 4 feet), known as Hall's Ledge, 4 metres (13 feet) from the summit. The rock's only permanent inhabitants are periwinkles and other marine molluscs. Small numbers of seabirds, mainly Fulmars, Gannets, Kittiwakes, and Guillemots, use the rock for resting in summer, and Gannets and Guillemots occasionally breed successfully if the summer is calm with no storm waves washing over the rock. There is no natural source of fresh water.

Rockall is also close to the Darwin Mounds, deep-water coral mounds about 185 km (115 miles) north-west of Cape Wrath.

Geological Surveys

The exact position of Rockall and the size and shape of the Rockall Bank was first charted in 1831 by Captain A.T.E. Vidal, a Royal Navy surveyor.

The first scientific expedition to Rockall was led by Miller Christie in 1896 when the Royal Irish Academy sponsored a sudy of the flora and fauna [1] ( They chartered the Granuaile [2] (

The RV Celtic Explorer has surveyed the Rockall Bank and North West of Donegal in 2003[3] (

The ILV Granuaile was chartered by the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI), on behalf of the Department of Communications, Marine & Natural Resources (DCMNR), to conduct a seismic survey at the Rockall and Hatton Banks in July 2004.[4] (


There have been disasters on the neighbouring Hassewood Rock and Helen's Reef (Helen's Reef was not named until 1830)

  • 1686 — a Spanish merchant ship, bound for the New World "ran on the rocks" on 22 August 1686; 250 people lost their lives.
  • 1812Survey Vessel LEONIDAS foundered on Helen's Reef
  • 1824 — Brigantine HELEN of Dundee, bound for Quebec, foundered at Hasselwood Rock; "the crew left most of the passengers to drown, including seven women and six children".
  • 1904Steamer NORGE, 3,318 tons with 700 emigrants from Copenhagen to New York on 28 June; 517 lost
  • 1984 - Jack (John) Lavelle was lost overboard from the yacht Helen, while returning from Rockall. [5] (

Law of the Sea

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, states "Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf." The Republic of Ireland, Denmark and Iceland all acceded to the convention. The United Kingdom acceded to the convention on 25 July 1997. The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland have agreed a delination which ignores Rockall's existence and have granted exploration rights.

History and conflicting claims

British claims to the island

Rockall is 480 km (298 miles) from Ardnamurchan Point on the Scottish mainland and is 320 km (200 miles) from Saint Kilda, Saint Kilda being 100 miles west of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. In 1997 the UK ratified the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In doing so the United Kingdom reliquished its right to claim an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 miles extending from the rock, as the agreement states that "Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf". However, as Rockall lies within 200 miles of Saint Kilda, the island itself remains within the EEZ of the United Kingdom and as such, under international law the UK can claim "..the sovereignty of the coastal state in relation to the exploitation, conservation and management of natural and living resources fishery and mineral resources" of the rock. Furthermore, the United Kindom and Ireland have signed a boundary agreement which includes Rockall in the United Kingdom area.

The earliest recorded landing on the island was on 8 July 1810 when an officer called Basil Hall led a small landing party from HMS Endymion to the summit. The men remained on the island for several hours whilst their ship drifted away from with the rock in the fog. Hall related this experience and other adventures in a book entitled Fragment of Voyages and Travels Including Anecdotes of a Naval Life. The next landing was accomplished by a Mr Johns of HMS Porcupine, whilst the ship was on a mission, from June and August of 1862, to make a survey of the sea bed prior to the laying of a transatlantic cable. Johns managed to gain foothold on the island, but failed to reach the summit.

On 18 September 1955 at precisely 10.16am, in what would be the last territorial expansion of the British Empire, the island was officially annexed by Britain when First Lieutenant Commander Desmond Scott RN, Sergeant Brian Peel RM, Corporal A.A. Fraser RM, and James Fisher (a civilain naturalist and former Royal Marine), were deposited on the island by a Royal Navy helicopter from HMS Vidal (coincidentally named after the man who first charted the island). The team cemented in a brass plaque on Hall's Ledge and hoisted the Union Flag to stake the British claim.

The inscription on the plaque reads:

"By authority of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith etc, etc., etc., and in accordance with Her Majesty's instructions dated the 14th day of September, 1955, a landing was effected this day upon this island of Rockall from HMS Vidal. The Union flag was hoisted and possession of the island was taken in the name of Her Majesty. [Signed] R H Connell, Captain, HMS Vidal, 18th September, 1955."

The formal annexation of Rockall was announced by the Admiralty on 21 September.

The initial incentive for the annexation of Rockall had little to do with any territorial claim to rights of exploitation of the seas around the island. It was the test firing of the UK's first guided nuclear weapon, the American made Corporal missile. The missile was to be launched from South Uist in the Outer Hebrides and over the North Atlantic. The Ministry of Defence were concerned that the unclaimed island would provide a unique opportunity for Soviet Union to spy on the test by placing surveillance equipment on the island; and so in April of 1955 a request was sent to the Admiralty to seize the island, and declare British sovereignty lest it become an outpost for foreign observers.

On 10 February 1972 the Isle of Rockall Act received Royal Assent to make the island part of Inverness-shire, fully incorporating it into the United Kingdom. A navigational beacon was later installed on the island and Britain declared that no ship would be allowed within a 50-mile radius of the rock.

In 1985 former SAS member and survival expert Tom McLean lived on the island from 26 May to 4 July to affirm Britain's claim to the island.

Irish claims to Rockall

The Republic of Ireland does not have formal claim to Rockall, regarding it as merely an uninhabitable rock without any territorial waters and thus irrelevant when determining the boundaries of the exclusive economic zones of Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom. More populist claims to the island are based, in part, on the fact that Rockall is 424 kilometres (265 miles) from Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.

According to a Written Parliamentary Answer from the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs on June 14 1990, an agreement was reached between the British and Irish governments on delimitation of the continental shelf between the two countries and that this included a line of delimitation across the Rockall Plateau. As a result, a very extensive area under Irish jurisdiction, including part of the Rockall Trough and Plateau, is undisputed by Britain. Ownership of Rockall itself, and the area surrounding it, did not form part of that agreement and was not affected by it. No further negotiations were taking place in relation to the rock at the time.

More recently, on June 11 2003, the Irish Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources gave a Written Parliamentary Answer, stating: "Ireland claims an extended continental shelf … up to more than 500 nautical miles, particularly in the Hatton–Rockall area." As the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf ( has no mandate regarding issues of delimitation between neighbouring states and cannot consider an area under dispute without the agreement of all the parties concerned, Ireland has participated in informal discussions with Iceland and the Faroe Islands in an attempt to resolve the dispute before making its submission to the Commission, which it hopes to make by 2006.

Populist claims

Independent Irish politician Sen Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus (1927-), a former Lord Mayor of Dublin (1995-1996), has long advocated that Ireland make a territorial claim on Rockall, and enthusiastically supported Greenpeace's occupation. He changed his name by deed poll twice: adding "Rockall" to demonstrate his commitment to that cause, and "Dublin Bay" to show his support for the protection of Dublin's environment. The Wolfe Tones, an Irish Republican band, released a song Rock on Rockall that supports an Irish claim.

Icelandic claims in the area

Iceland does not claim the rock itself, considering it irrelevant as far as delimination of EEZs and continental shelf is concerned. Iceland however claims an extended continental shelf in the Hatton-Rockall area.

Iceland ratified UNCLOS in 1985, it was the first western country to do so. A regulation was passed by the government in that same year outlining the area where Iceland claimed continental shelf rights for itself, the regulation[6] ( was based on legislation[7] ( from 1979 claiming for Iceland the exclusive right to research and exploitation of continental shelf-based resources within the limits of the Icelandic continental shelf. Regarding the Hatton-Rockall area, it claims the area within 60 nautical miles from the foot of the continental shelf and assumes that the UK and Ireland can not claim a continental shelf outside their EEZs. To its fullest extent, this area reaches about 700 nautical miles to the south from Iceland's coast, that is further south than Britain's southernmost point.

In 2001, Iceland began working on its submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, it is scheduled to finish in 2005 and a oral presentation before the Commission is to be made in 2006. The most important aspect of this work is to survey the entire ocean floor in the areas claimed outside the EEZ and in Iceland's case, a part of the area inside the EEZ as well. In all, 1.3 million square kilometers have been surveyed by Icelandic marine research institutions for this purpose, 13-fold the land area of Iceland.

Danish/Faroese claims in the area

The Faroe Islands are an autonomous region of the Kingdom of Denmark. Since 1948 they have had self-government in almost all matters except defence and foreign affairs. Consequently their interests in Rockall are represented by Denmark. On their behalf, Denmark claims continental shelf rights in the Hatton Rockall area. It does not claim the islet itself — their position is the same as is Ireland's and Iceland's.

Waveland and the Greenpeace occupation

In 1997 the environmentalist organisation Greenpeace occupied the islet for a short time, calling it Waveland, to protest against oil exploration under the authority of the British. Greenpeace declared the island to be a "new Global State", and offered citizenship to anyone willing to take their pledge of allegiance. The British Government's response was simply to give them permission to be there, and otherwise ignore them.

The project continued until 1999, when the company sponsoring it collapsed and the experiment ended. This interlude nevertheless marked the longest continuous habitation of the islet, at forty-two days.

Rockall in literature and culture

  • Rockall is the setting for William Golding's novel "Pincher Martin" (1956), a surreal, nightmarish vision of one man's battle for physical and-more tellingly-mental survival in the most unforgiving and hostile of environments.The rock itself becomes the central motif of the novel and symbolises the main character's post-modernist alienation from the "real" world.
  • An Irish/Celtic band, "The House Band", has an album called Rockall, named after the place.
  • The Icelandic jazz-funk band Mezzoforte recorded an instrumental track called 'Rockall', which was used as the chart countdown music on BBC Radio 1 in the 1980s.
  • Lyrics of "Ether" by English Band "Gang of Four" proclaim "There may be Oil, Under Rockall" [8] (
  • Lyrics of Rock On Rockall [9] ( (Irish claim)
  • Lyrics of The fleet set sail for Rockall (British claim)[10] (
  • Rockall is also the name of the land where Anthony Swithin's series "The Perilous Quest for Lyonesse" takes place.
  • The conclusion of a famous episode of the 1950s BBC radio series The Goon Show, "Napoleon's Piano", takes place on Rockall. Bluebottle (Spike Milligan) is lowered from "a recording of a helicopter" to salute the Union Jack and claim Rockall as "British". Rockall is shortly thereafter demolished by a nearby rocket-testing range.
  • "The Master," an adventure novel by T.H. White, involves two children who are stranded on Rockall. They find that it is hollow and inhabited by a mysterious person who aims to take over the world.
  • After the British annexation of the isle, Flanders and Swann composed the following song in mock celebration:
The fleet set sail for Rockall,
To free the isle of Rockall,
From fear of foreign foe.
We sped across the planet,
To find this lump of granite,
One rather startled Gannet;
In fact, we found Rockall.
So, praise the brave Bell-bottoms,
Who saw Britannia's Peril,
And answered to her call,
Though we're thrown out of Malta,
Though Spain should take Gibraltar,
Why should we flinch or falter,
When England's got Rockall.

See Also


  • Birds breeding on Rockall. British Birds 86: 16-17, 320-321 (1993).
  • Oral Questions ( to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Dil ireann, November 1, 1973
  • Written Answer ( from the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Dil ireann, June 14, 1990
  • Written Answer ( from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in the Dil ireann, June 11, 2003

External links


fr:Rockall nl:Rockall ja:ロッコール島


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