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The United States Minor Outlying Islands consist of nine United States insular areas in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea: Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island. The Caribbean territories of Bajo Nuevo Bank and Serranilla Bank can also be included as per U.S. sources.
Bajo Nuevo Bank, also known as the Petrel Islands, is a small, uninhabited reef with some small islets, covered with grass, located in the western Caribbean Sea at 15° 53' N, 78° 38' W. The closest neighboring land feature is Serranilla Bank, located 110 kilometers to the west.
The reef was first shown on Dutch maps dating to 1634 but was given its present name in 1654. Bajo Nuevo was rediscovered by the English pirate John Glover in 1660.
Bajo Nuevo Bank is about 26 km long and 9 km wide. There are two distinct atoll-like structures separated by a deep channel 1.4 km wide at its narrowest point. The larger southwestern reef complex measures 15.4 km northeast-southwest, and is up to 9.4 km wide, covering an area of about 100 km². The smaller northeastern reef complex measures 10.5 km east-west and is up to 5.5 km wide, covering an area of 45 km². The most prominent cay is Low Cay, in the southwestern atoll. It is 300 m long and 40 m wide (about 0.01 km²), no more than 2 m high, and barren. It is composed of broken coral and sand.
Bajo Nuevo Bank is 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.
Colombia currently administers the area as part of the department of San Andrés and Providencia. Naval patrols in the area are carried out by the San Andrés fleet of the Colombian Navy. Colombia maintains that it has claimed these territories since 1886, as part of the geographic archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia. This date is disputed by other claimant states, most prominent among them Nicaragua, which has argued that Colombia had not claimed the territory by name until recently.
Jamaica's claim has been largely dormant since entering into a number of bilateral agreements with Colombia. Between 1982 and 1986, the two states maintained a formal agreement which granted regulated fishing rights to Jamaican vessels within the territorial waters of Bajo Nuevo and nearby Serranilla Bank. Jamaica's signing of this treaty was regarded by critics as a de facto recognition of Colombian sovereignty over the two banks. The treaty is now extinguished, however, as Colombia declined to renew it upon its expiration in August 1986.
In November 1993, Colombia and Jamaica 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 aforementioned banks. 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. The exclusion circles were defined in the chart attached to the treaty as "Colombia's territorial sea in Serranilla and Bajo Nuevo". The agreement came into force in March 1994.
Nicaragua lays claim to all the islands on its continental shelf, covering an area of over 50,000 km2 in the Caribbean Sea, including Bajo Nuevo 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. The main cause of the dispute lies in the debated validity and applicability of the Esguerra-Bárcenas treaty, exchanged with Colombia in March 1928.
The United States claim was made on 22 November 1869 by James W. Jennett under the provisions of the Guano Islands Act. Most claims made by the U.S. over the guano islands in this region were officially renounced in a treaty with Colombia, dated September 1972. But whether or not Bajo Nuevo Bank was included in the agreement is disputed, as the bank is not mentioned specifically by name within the treaty, and Article 7 of the treaty states that matters not specifically mentioned in the treaty are not subject to its terms. The U.S. administers the bank as an unorganized, unincorporated United States territory. Persons born on Bajo Nuevo to non-citizens are considered by the United States to be U.S. nationals, but not U.S. citizens.
Honduras, prior to its ratification of a maritime boundary treaty with Colombia on 20 December 1999, had previously also laid claim to Bajo Nuevo and nearby Serranilla Bank. Both states agreed upon a maritime demarcation in 1986 that excluded Honduras of any control over the banks or their surrounding waters. This bilateral treaty ensured that Honduras implicitly recognises Colombia's sovereignty over the disputed territories. Honduras' legal right to hand over these areas was disputed by Nicaragua before the ICJ.
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