In the north of the Atlantic Ocean there is a rocky outcrop that has been causing Scotland and Ireland to quarrel for some time, despite being deserted, unsuitable for habitation and very small in size: it is called Rockall and periodically returns to the center of attention in the local press. only because it attracts patrons with different objectives, but above all for reasons related to fishing rights. Because of its history, Rockall has become one of the symbols of the rivalry between Scotland and Ireland, but several other countries are involved in the dispute.
The spur of Rockall it is about 25 meters long, 22 meters wide and has an elevation of 17 meters above sea level: more or less like a basketball court surrounded by the sea. It is located 370 kilometers west of the Scottish archipelago of the Outer Hebrides and 420 kilometers north of County Donegal in the north of Ireland. It does not host plants or shrubs, only a few species of migratory birds pass through it and due to its very limited occupyable area it is not a place to settle: apart from a series of shipwrecks, it was reached for the first time in 1810 by the British. Today, large quantities of cod, monkfish and squid are caught in the waters around the spur, but in addition to those there are also deposits of oil and natural gas which are of interest to various countries.
The UK claims Rockall as part of its territory since 1955 and incorporated it as part of Scotland in 1972. However, neither Ireland nor any other country recognizes the annexation, which is why disputes and discussions have long been ongoing over the jurisdiction of the territory, especially regarding fishing rights and the ability to explore natural resources.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) establishes that the rocks on which it is not possible to live or support themselves independently, such as Rockall, cannot have their own exclusive economic zone, i.e. the portion of the sea that extends from the coast up to a maximum of 370 kilometers and on which one state exercises a form of sovereignty, for example for the exploitation of fisheries. In any case, the United Kingdom believes that Rockall is part of its exclusive economic zone, given that the closest territory to it is that of the Scottish island of Soay, in the Saint Kilda archipelago, about 300 kilometers further east: it therefore considers to have the exclusive right to fish in Rockall in the so-called territorial waters, the portion of the sea that reaches up to 22 kilometers from the coast, as required by international law.
In 2014, the United Kingdom and Ireland published the updated borders of each other exclusive economic zones, which included Rockall in British jurisdiction. However the discussions have continued, and also involve other nations.
While Ireland maintains that Rockall cannot be recognized as part of any state, theIceland claims that it belongs to it: despite being 700 kilometers further north, it claims that the spur is located on its own continental shelf (that is, the submerged part of a continent that ends at the point where the slope of the seabed increases significantly). By the same token he claims possession of Rockall as well Denmarkaccording to which it is part of the continental shelf that includes the Danish archipelago of the Faroe Islands, north of Scotland.
The tensions stronger there were in June 2019, when the Scottish Minister for Culture, Tourism and Foreign Affairs Fiona Hyslop had threatened to have some Irish fishing vessels removed from the waters around Rockall. For her part, the Irish government had again challenged Scotland’s claims, and the Irish County Donegal Fishermen’s Association said its vessels would continue to fish in the area around the spur, as they always had. The matter was still talked about in January 2021, when an Irish fishing vessel had indeed been blocked by the Scottish Navy to prevent it from fishing in what Scotland considers its territorial waters.
Over time Rockall has become something of a symbol of a wider rivalry between Scotland and Ireland. In 1985 Tom McClean, a veteran of the British Army’s Special Air Service, climbed the spur and stayed there for 40 days to claim it as a British possession. In 1992 Phillip and Fergus Gribbon, two brothers from Ireland, planned to occupy it to remove the plaque with which the British had claimed it as their territory in 1955 and plant the Irish flag there (in the end they didn’t go). Even earlier, however, the Irish folk group Wolfe Tones had dedicated a rather explicit song to Rockall, in which, among other things, he said that the spur would “never end up in the greedy hands of the [Gran] Brittany”.
Rockall was also the destination of some radio amateurs who occupied it briefly on various occasions and of a group of Greenpeace activists who stayed there for 42 days in 1997 in protest against oil exploration activities.
In July 2014, however, the Scotsman Nick Hancock stayed there 45 days aiming to surpass McClean’s record, with the aim of raising money for a charity. He said that he spent the time reading many books, that he began to talk to the birds that landed on the outcrop and that he observed various fishing vessels and two minke whales. However, he was forced to return before the 60 days that he had foreseen because a storm had carried away some of the supplies he had brought with him.
Great aerial photo of me & the #RockPod hon #Rockall in support of @HelpforHeroes taken by @KildaCruises using a kite! pic.twitter.com/xDM7L64M0K
— Nick Hancock FRGS (@RockallNick) July 22, 2014
In the summer of 2020 a group of a few people attended the first tour of Rockall, approaching it first by ship and then with a dinghy, between waves up to 6 meters high and particularly strong winds.
Last June, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, a group of people he had planned to reach the spur and stay there for two days with the aim of raising a million pounds for a children’s hospital and charity. The expedition was canceled due to globally rising fuel costs. Cam Cameron, the leader of the group, had announced that the expedition would be postponed to 2023.
Sightseeing in Rockall in 2020