Findings of Fact

by Jacquelyn Bengfort

In re: the presentation of the birth of an island on or about Christmas Day, 2011.

At an operations briefing given on or about Christmas Day, 2011, this writer, then serving as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, presented a satellite photo and Notice to Mariners (NTM) advising ships at sea of the emergence of a new island in Sector 3, The Red Sea—Central Passage. The Lieutenant’s ship had, three or four days prior, transited Sector 3 enroute Al Aqabah, Jordan.

The Captain, Executive Officer, and Navigator were present for the briefing. The Lieutenant, now an undisciplined civilian, wishes by way of addenda to present the following Findings of Fact.

1. Fishermen first noted lava eruptions off the west coast of Yemen in the Red Sea on December 19, 2011.

2. The Red Sea is a rift in the Earth’s surface where the Arabic and African tectonic plates are drifting apart at a rate of one centimeter per year.

 

3. The December 19th eruptions were estimated as up to 30 meters (approx. 90 feet) high.

 

4. The flight deck of our ship was 65 feet above the water line.

 

5. The new island was noted on December 23, 2011.

 

6. The new island exists in a small chain of volcanic shield islands known as the Zubayr Group.

7. The Zubayr Group islands belong to the state of Yemen.

8. The Zubayr Group islands are barren and uninhabited.

9. The new island was named Sholan Island in 2013.

10. The islands to either side are named Haycock and Rugged.

11. Another island, Jadid, emerged in 2013.

12. The persistence of new volcanic islands is a function of the rate of volcanic activity versus the rate of erosion.

13. At its largest, Sholan was .77 kilometers long and .52 kilometers across.

14. By 2015, 30% of the landmass of Sholan had eroded.

15. Islands are defined by Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

16. Under UNCLOS, the uninhabitable nature of the Zubayr Group means they are classed as rocks, not islands, and their existence does not increase Yemen’s territorial seas.

 

17. Under UNCLOS, only low-tide elevations and reefs rank lower than rocks.

 

18. An Italian man claimed Sholan as the seat of a new nation, Principato di San Bernardino.

 

19. The man was born in 1953 and resides in Ravenna.

 

20. He claims the titles “Prince” and “His Serene Highness” and is active on Twitter.

21. Satellite photos of the area were taken in the summer of 2016; Sholan and Jadid were nowhere to be seen.

Decision: We did not strike the island. That was your gift, and you are very welcome.

Author's Note

If you plow a ship into an uncharted newborn island, that's definitely a story. Even a near miss has a drama that this anecdote has always lacked. I resist embellishing my small cache of sea stories; I stick to the facts. This story takes that factualism to an extreme, presenting everything I could find out about a geological event that brushed up briefly against my own life.

Jacquelyn Bengfort lives in Washington, DC. She has received fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She is the author of the chapbooks Navy News Service and Suitable for All Methods of Communication (both Ghost City Press). Her website is www.JaciB.com.

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