“Gone But Not Forgotten: The Saga of Ferdinandea Island in the Mediterranean”
Now you see me … now you don’t … the little island that appears and disappears again – but whose is it?
If it appears again, who will claim it?
I am today 77 years old and regard myself as an intense student/writer of my home Islands, Malta and Gozo, the Mediterranean in general, and going further afield, world history.
To my total astonishment a few days ago I came to know of a controversial happening that took place between Malta and Sicily 233 years ago of which I was totally unaware and still astounds me today.
Ferdinandea Island in the Mediterranean
If I were to ask my many thousands of friends in Malta and Gozo about Ferdinandea Island (also known as Graham Island, Graham Bank or Graham Shoal and in French the lle Julia), 95% will justly reply they have never heard of it (and that included me a short while ago!).
If I were to ask my overseas contacts, 99.9999% would reply the same.
This despite the fact that it lies just south west of Sicily and west of Malta and has been the subject of international dispute on many occasions.
For today’s boatsmen and divers this is a dream location of exploration – probably unique and unlike any other.
If you have your own boat and if you are also a diver, sailing in the Mediterranean from west to east towards Malta and Sicily, you are entering a paradise of discovery.
The maps below detail the exact location.
Availabilities and Possibilities
If not, you can hire a boat from Malta to be taken to this location. This is in no way a problem. Boats and boat tours are available from all seaside localities including Marsaxlokk, Marsascala, Birzebbugia, Valletta, Sliema, Kalkara and Gozo – infact anywhere you are.
In all, throughout the islands there are 234 motor and sailboats available for hire, day charters etc – but good to compare prices – and most of them provided with a skipper, recommended.
Diving schools are also in abundance and found in all seaside localities and include the hire of diving equipment and if needed, a guide, such as:
However, my best tip to get all the needed information without hassle and having to run around is to go immediately to the offices of the Malta Tourism Office in Valletta and gain all the information from there.
Subject of International Dispute
Back to our “now you see me, now you don’t” Ferdinandea Island and its astonishing history. This volcanic island has since 300 BC risen and then subsided again on at least four occasions, the latest in 1831.
The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Britain, France and Spain all tried immediately to declare the island theirs since it lay outside the territorial waters of Sicily.
When the news reached Malta, Sir Henry Hotham, British vice admiral on the island, dispatched ships “to determine the exact position on the charts, and to make every other observation on the nature of the phenomenon.”
On 1st August 1831, Royal Navy Captain Humphrey Fleming Senhouse of HMS Melville (below) claimed the Island for the British Crown and he planted the Union Jack and named the island after Sir James Graham, the First Lord of the Admiralty.
The Sicilians, French and Spanish soon after, all planted their flags on the island. These countries chose these names:
Island of Ferdinandea (after King Ferdinand II monarch of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) by the Sicilians.
Île Julia (since it appeared in July) by the French,and, Nerita (the black one) by the Spanish.
By mid August 1831 the island was about 65 meters high and had a circumference of nearly five kilometres.
The new island was on the very strategic position of the Mediterranean trade route thus it made it desirable by the four countries. By mid-September 1831 there was a potential conflict starting between the four countries. As it was circumnavigating the island, the Italian corvette “Etna” found itself challenged by the English frigate “Janhouse”. The mediation by the two captains avoided the firing of any cannon.
Whilst diplomacy was going on in Europe to decide who will be the island’s sovereign, nature took the affair into her hands and by mid-December 1831 the island had disappeared completely submerged under the Mediterranean!
In 1863 the volcano woke up again and The Times of London immediately declared “A British island emerges from the Mediterranean” risking clashes with Italy which had just been unified as one country in 1861.
The exact position of the island is:
37° 10′ 0″ N, 12° 43′ 0″ E
The Current Situation
The top of the island is presently six metres below sea level. The island’s most recent “appearance” occurred in July 1831, but then by January 1832 the portion of the island above sea level had been entirely washed away again by the wind and the waves of the Mediterranean Sea.
The 1831 version of the island was first visited by the Sicilian customs official Michele Fiorini on 17 July 1831, who planted an oar there to claim the newly emerged island for the Kingdom of Sicily.
An international dispute arose over the island, Sicily claiming it was Sicilian territory, the British claiming it to be British territory because of Malta and Gozo, and Spain and France also registering claims.
Thankfully, the island subsided again in January 1832 and prevented further litigation, so everything remained on hold.
However, to forestall a renewal over sovereign disputes, in 2000 Italian divers planted a Sicilian flag on the top of the submerged volcano and earlier a marble plaque had been lowered onto it claiming “this Island of Ferdinandea will always be Sicilian”.
In 1863 the volcano woke up again and “The Times of London” immediately declared “A British island emerges from the Mediterranean” risking clashes with Italy which had just been unified as one country in 1861.
It is now fractured into 12 pieces on the sea floor but as a precaution Italian divers regularly lower seisomographs there to monitor volcanic activity.
BeSeeingYou In: An unique experience for sailiors and divers!
Good To Know: Needs some research and preparation
WOW! Factor: Yes, an unique and unusual experience
TIP: An adventure for maritime lovers – probably unique
Author Bio: Albert Fenech