Pacific News Minute: South China Sea Ruling Could Affect Atoll with Strange History

Aug 2, 2016

Credit Blue Moon Sailing

Last month's ruling by an international court redrew the map of the South China Sea...though China refuses to accept the decision.  But while attention is focused on that regions reefs, shoals and artificial islands, law of the sea scholars now say the court decision could also affect another disputed feature, with a strange history...more on Minerva Reef from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

Named for the Australian whaler that wrecked there in 1829, Minerva Reef was no more than a navigational hazard until a Las Vegas real estate tycoon dumped enough sand to raise the reefs above the waves, and, on January 19th, 1972, the flag of the Republic of Minerva flew from a small tower. It was to be a libertarian utopia...no taxes, welfare, subsidies, or any form of economic interventionism.

And no navy. Which turned out to be a problem. The Republic's skeptical neighbors recognized Tonga as the proper authority, and, just five months after the republic's Declaration of Independence, an expedition raised the Tongan flag over Minerva. In 2005, Fiji issued a claim of its own. Twice, most recently in 2011, Fijian sailors destroyed navigational beacons installed by Tonga, but withdrew when Tongan ships arrived.

The principle value of Minerva Reef, is the 200 mile exclusive economic zone that extends around it, contains important fishing grounds. But last month's ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Philippines V China would strip away the EEZ, and maybe even 12 miles of territorial waters.  Which could make the dispute between Tonga and Fiji moot, and leave the reef to trans Pacific sailors, who report a fine anchorage, excellent snorkeling and good fishing.