Spain has quietly lodged an official request with the United Nations to have Portugal’s southern-most territory, the Savage Islands, declared as rocks and not as islands, according to a report from the Gibraltar Chronicle.
According to a piece in the Portugal news the demand issued by Madrid is aimed at reducing Portugal’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), currently the largest of any European nation, and will allow Spanish vessels from the Canary Islands to venture closer to Madeira.
Measuring a mere 2.73 square kilometres or 20 hectares, although its highest point is 165 metres high, the Savage Islands are at the centre of an international dispute which Madrid has decided to take to the highest international level and seek a UN resolution.
The islands are located between Madeira and the Canary Islands, allowing Portugal’s territorial waters to reach within 40 nautical miles of the Spanish territory. In terms of distance, the Savage Islands are substantially closer to the Canaries than they are to Madeira.
These islands have been a Portuguese territory since 1438, the same year that a human being first set foot on Madeira, unlike the Canary Islands which was colonised by the Spanish.
They are inhabited only by a small team of wardens from the Madeira Nature Park, though the Portuguese navy has seized a series of Spanish fishing vessels over the years for breaching territorial borders.
Meanwhile, the town of Olivença, located south of Elvas in the Alentejo and Badajoz across the border, has been the centre of a dispute that has lasted two centuries.
The Portuguese Defence Force’s Geographical Institute (IGE) has repeatedly declined to draw the geographical line between Portugal and Spain where this town is situated, leaving a huge void along the border which divides the two countries.
The geographical omission by the Defence Force has been justified by the fact that Olivença is a Portuguese territory occupied by the Spanish and no lines will be drawn until Portugal wins the battle the Vienna Treaty said it had in 1817. It was then that Spain’s forces, backed by Napoleon were defeated after an occupation which had lasted 16 years.
Vienna thereby cancelled the Badajoz Treaty in 1801 which saw Portugal surrender Olivença to Spain and Napoleonic forces ending more than 500 years of Portugal rule, after it was founded in 1297.
Despite diplomatic scurries, the United Nations is only expected to issue a verdict on the Savage Islands in 2015, while the issue of Olivença is set to remain undecided.