, forcing the deportation of the island's entire 2,000
inhabitants, descendants of African slaves and Hindu laborers
brought to the islands by the French in the 18th century, to the
surrounding islands including Mauritius, located 1,200 miles away.
In their place a joint British-American military base was
It is covered in luxuriant tropical vegetation. It is long, with a
maximum elevation of , and nearly encloses a
about long and up to wide. Depths in the
lagoon extend to , and numerous coral heads present hazards to
navigation. Shallow reefs surround the island on the ocean side.
The channel and anchorage area are
The atoll forms a nearly complete rim of land around a lagoon,
enclosing 90 percent of its
with an opening only in the north. The main island is the largest
of about sixty islands which form the Chagos Archipelago. Besides
the main island, there are three small islets at the mouth of the
kilometre southwest of Middle Island, appears as just a sand bar on
satellite images. Both Middle Island and Anniversary Island sit on
from October to
February. August, the driest month, averages 100 mm
(4.2 in). Temperatures are generally close to 30Â°C (86 Â°F) by
day, falling to the low 20s Â°C (70 Â°F) by night. Humidity is high
throughout the year. The almost constant breeze keeps conditions
. The surrounding
is low and does not provide an extensive wind break. Since the
1960s the island has not been seriously affected by a severe
tropical cyclone, even though it has often been threatened. The
maximum sustained wind associated with a tropical cyclone in the
period 1970-2000 was approximately 40 knots (75 km/h).
Service personnel on the western arm of the
island reported only a minor increase in wave activity. The island
was protected to a large degree by its favourable ocean topography.
About 80 km (50 mi) east of the atoll lies the
650 km (400-mile) long Chagos Trench, an underwater canyon
plunging more than 4,900 m (16,000 ft). The depth of the
trench and its grade to the atoll's slope and shelf shore makes it
more difficult for substantial tsunami waves to build before
passing the atoll from the east. In addition, near shore
and an algal platform may have
dissipated much of the waves' impact. A biological survey conducted
in early 2005 indicated erosional effects of the tsunami wave on
Diego Garcia and other islands of the Chagos Archipelago. One 200
to 300 m stretch of shoreline was found to have been breached by
the tsunami wave, representing approximately 10 percent of the
eastern arm. A biological survey by the Chagos Conservation Trust
reported that the resulting inundation additionally washed away
shoreline shrubs and small to medium size coconut palms.
55 km (34 mi) northwest of
the island caused a small tsunami resulting in a 1.5 m
(5 ft) rise in wave height in the lagoon, causing some damage
to buildings, piers and the runway. Immediately following the
earthquake, many of the military and civilian residents of the
island gathered at the Naval Support Facility swimming pool. The
hill built to enclose the swimming pool, at 22 feet above sea
level, is the highest point on the island.
Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to discover the
island of Diego Garcia.
Coconut Plantation, East Point
(former main settlement)
The island may have first been
explored by the Portuguese navigator PÃªro de Mascarenhas
(1470â€“June 23, 1555)
during his voyage of 1512â€“13, but there is little corroborative
evidence for this, while cartographic analysis points to a
subsequent date, possibly 1532 or later.
In addition considerable uncertainty exists regarding the origin of
the name of Diego Garcia, particularly as no navigator of this name
can be traced in contemporary records for this part of the world.
be the same Diego Garcia who sailed to the RÃo de la
Plata in 1526, and possibly with Hernando de Soto's voyage, but as a
Spaniard it seems unlikely that he was ever in the Indian
In fact there is good reason to believe that the
Christian name, Diego, of the island's discoverer was a misnomer or
misreading which came into use towards the end of the sixteenth
century. Although the Cantino Planisphere (1504) and the Ruysch map
(1507) clearly delineate the Maldives, giving them the same names,
they show no islands to the south which can be identified as the
The Sebastian Cabot
1544) shows a number of islands to the south which may be the
Mascarene group. The first map which identifies and names 'Los
Chagos' (in about the right position) is that of Pierre Descelier
(Dieppe 1550), although Diego Garcia is not named. An island called
'Don Garcia' appears on the Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis
together with 'Dos Compagnos', slightly to the north. It may be the
case that 'Don Garcia' was named after Garcia de Noronha, although
there no evidence exists to support this supposition. The island is
also shown as 'Don Garcia' on Mercator
Nova et Aucta Orbis Terrae Description
However, on the Vera Totius Expeditionis Nauticae
of Jodocus Hondius (London 1589), 'Don Garcia'
mysteriously changes its name to 'I. de Dio Gratia', while the 'I.
de Chagues' appears close by.
The first map to delineate the island under its present name, Diego
Garcia, is the World Map
of Edward Wright (London 1599),
possibly as a result of misreading Dio (or simply 'D.') as Diego,
and Gratia as Garcia. The Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis
of Henricus Hondius (Antwerp 1630) repeats
Wright's misreading of the name, which is then proliferated on all
subsequent Dutch maps of the period, and to the present day.
islands were uninhabited until the 18th century, when the French established
coconut plantations using slave labour. Diego Garcia became a
colony of the United
Kingdom after the Napoleonic
wars, and from 1814â€“1965 it was a dependency of Mauritius.
In 1914, the island was visited by the German cruiser SMS Emden
Archipelago, which include Diego Garcia, were detached from
Mauritius to form part of the British Indian
Ocean Territory (BIOT).
Barochois Maurice, Diego Garcia.
In 1966 the crown bought the islands
and plantations, which had been under private ownership and which
had been unprofitable since the introduction of new oils and
lubricants. In 1971, due to an agreement between the UK and the US,
the plantations were closed, and the island made available to the
US as a military base
. No payment was
made as part of this arrangement, although it has been claimed that
the United Kingdom received a US$
14M discount on the acquisition of
from the United
States. The agreement forbids any other economic activity on the
Until 1971 Diego Garcia had a native population of two thousand
or Ilois, descendants of
Indian workers and African slaves who had been brought to the
island in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to work on the
coconut and copra plantations. They lived in three settlements:
East Point, the main settlement on the eastern rim of the atoll;
Minni Minni, north of East Point; and Pointe Marianne, on the
western rim. The islands were forcibly depopulated by the UK,
their residents moved to the Seychelles and then to Mauritius using controversial
Since their expulsion the Chagossians have
continually asserted their right to return to Diego Garcia. In
April 2006, 102 Chagossians were allowed to visit Diego Garcia
for a day, to tend to graves and visit their birthplaces. For a
good general history of the Islands and what happened to the Ilois,
refer to The Minority Rights Group Report No 54 - 'Diego Garcia: a
contrast to the Falklands' or read the book by David Vine; Island
of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego
Current Military use
Diego Garcia Police Station
Diego Garcia is home to a military
jointly operated by the United States and the United
Kingdom. It is a naval refueling and support station and the home
Prepositioning Ship Squadron Two
, the naval unit responsible
for the readiness of the ships in Military Sealift Command
Prepositioning Program in the Indian Ocean, a vital strategic asset
to the United States.It has an air base
that primarily supported land-based U.S.
Navy P-3 Orion
maritime patrol aircraft during the Cold
. Since 11 September 2001, in addition to P-3 aircraft, it
has also supported some of the largest military aircraft
Air Force B-52
, as well as various aerial refueling
have been deployed to Diego Garcia to
execute missions. During the 1991 Gulf War
Diego Garcia was home to the 4300th Bomb Wing (Provisional), made
up of B-52G bombers from the former Loring
, Maine and other B-52G bases. It was also used in
support of military missions in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, and
to Iraq again during the 2003
invasion. The B-52,
and B-1 deployed to Diego Garcia in
anticipation of the second Iraq
War carried out the initial aerial bombardment on Baghdad on March 22, 2003.
Some of these bombers
dropped GPS guided bombs
and laser guided
(4,200 lb.) bunker busters
to kill Saddam Hussein
officials. Although they now
primarily deploy to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, Diego Garcia still
remains a regular deployment site for U.S. Navy P-3C Orion maritime
The base is part of the U.S. Space Surveillance Network,
with a three-telescope GEODSS station, and is
a NASA Space Shuttle emergency landing
the U.S. nor the UK recognises Diego Garcia as being subject to the
Weapons Free Zone Treaty, though the rest of the Chagos
Archipelago is included, suggesting they wish to maintain the
freedom to base nuclear weapons
The agreement between the UK and U.S. for the U.S. to use the
island as a military base was made in 1966. It runs until 2036, but
either government can opt out of the agreement in 2016.
Construction and maintenance of the base's communications
equipment, fuel facilities and military hardware are done strictly
by military contractors, and inventories of that weaponry are
classified. No service-member family dependents are allowed. In
2001, the U.S. Department
of Defense said that there were more buildings on Diego Garcia
(654) than military personnel.
Detailed map of Diego Garcia.
In 2000 the British High Court upheld the claims of the islanders
that the Ordinance which had been enacted to ensure their removal
(although it was never in fact invoked for that purpose) was
unlawful. Robin Cook
, the British
at the time, did not appeal. In 2002, the UK
Parliament enacted legislation which gave all Chagossians the right
to obtain British citizenship, granted the islanders the right to
return to the Archipelago and granted them UK citizenship.
the islanders and their descendants, now numbering 4,500, returned
to court requesting compensation, after two years of delays by the
The Chagossians began proceedings to seek
additional compensation payments from the British Government (they
had been granted Â£650,000 compensation on removal in the 1970s, and
a further Â£4 million in the early 1980s). The High Court and Court
of Appeal upheld the Government's position that the compensation
already paid was fair and lawful, and struck down the Chagossians
claims for additional payments. Subsequently, on June 10, 2004, the
British government enacted two Orders-in-Council
immigration controls on the islands and effectively banning the
islanders from returning home, reversing the 2000 court decision.
Some of the Chagossians are making return plans to turn Diego
Garcia into a sugarcane and fishing enterprise as soon as the
defence agreement expires, and there have been discussions about
the development of a commercial tourism industry on the islands,
which may raise environmental concerns. A few dozen other
Chagossians are still fighting to be housed in the UK, although
they have the same rights as all British citizens.
On May 11, 2006, the High Court ruled that the 2004
Orders-in-Council were unlawful, and that the Chagossians were
entitled to return to the Chagos Archipelago.The judges, Lord
Justice Hooper and Mr Justice Cresswell concluded: "The
suggestion that a minister can, through the means of an order in
council, exile a whole population from a British Overseas Territory
and claim that he is doing so for the 'peace, order and good
government' of the territory is to us repugnant."
Bancoult, the representative of the Chagossians, called on Prime
Minister Tony Blair
to honour the
decision of the court and allow his people to go home.
"We have always believed that a human being has the
right to live in the place of his birth.
Everywhere, the British government paints itself as the
champion of human rights - so what about the human rights of the
This judgment was upheld by the Court of Appeal on May 23, 2007.
The British Government then appealed to the House of Lords, which
on 22 October 2008 overturned the earlier decision and ruled that
the evicted islanders could not return to the archipelago.
Chagossians may now take their legal battle to the European
Court of Human Rights.
Prison site allegation
Human rights groups claim that the military base is used by the
U.S. government for the controversial extraordinary
of prisoners. This claim was supported by the
Council of Europe
in June 2007.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw stated
in Parliament that U.S. authorities have repeatedly assured him
that no detainees have passed in transit through Diego Garcia or
have disembarked there.
In October 2007 the all-party
Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament announced that
it would launch an investigation of the claims, which it is
reported were twice confirmed by General Barry McCaffrey
On October 19, 2007 The
reported: "The all-party foreign affairs
committee is to examine long-standing suspicions that the agency
has operated one of its so-called 'black
' prisons on Diego Garcia..." The Guardian
British Member of Parliament
, "Time and time again the
UK government has relied on US assurances on this issue, refusing
to examine the truth of these allegations for themselves. It is
high time our government took its head out of the sand and looked
into these allegations."
On July 31, 2008 Time Magazine
reported that a former White House official stated that the U.S.
had imprisoned and interrogated at least one suspect on Diego
Garcia during 2002 and possibly 2003.
Rendition admission by F.O.
On February 21, 2008, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband
admitted that two US extraordinary
flights refuelled on Diego Garcia in 2002. Further,
it has been implied that these actions constituted a direct breach
of the treaty between the US and the UK concerning Diego
Further allegations from U.N. Official
, the United Nations'
special rapporteur on torture, says that credible evidence exists
supporting allegations about the use of Diego Garcia as a prison
for alleged terrorists.
Clara Gutteridge, an investigator with human rights group Reprieve
, states that US-operated
ships moored outside the territorial waters of Diego Garcia were
used to incarcerate and torture detainees.
On 12 March 2008, The Guardian
that two British protesters had been arrested for "entering the
waters [of Diego Garcia] illegally".
During the Cold War
era, the United States
was keen on establishing a military base in the Indian Ocean.
Because of Diego Garcia's proximity to India, the United States saw
the island as a strategically important one. U.S. military
activities in Diego Garcia have caused friction between India and
U.S. in the past. Various political parties in India repeatedly
demanded that the U.S. dismantle the military base as they saw U.S.
naval presence in Diego Garcia as a potential threat to India's
dominance of the Indian Ocean.
After the end of the Cold War, relations between India and U.S.
improved dramatically. Diego Garcia was the site of several naval
exercises between the U.S.
and Indian Navy
held between 2001 and 2004.
Diego Garcia is also located relatively close to the Middle East,
and experienced rapid military build-ups during the beginnings of
the Iranian revolution and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Diego Garcia has several current missions. U.S. Air Force bombers
and air refueling planes operate from the 3,650 m (12,000 ft)
runway, and the USAF Space Command has built a satellite tracking
station and communications facility.
The atoll shelters the 14 ships of Marine Prepositioning Squadron
Two. These ships carry the equipment and supplies to support a
major armed force with tanks, armored personnel carriers,
munitions, fuel, spare parts and even a mobile field hospital.
equipment was used during the Persian Gulf
War, when the Squadron quickly delivered its equipment to
There, soldiers flown on air transports
from U.S. and European bases quickly unloaded and deployed the
Aircraft Parking Area, Diego
There are five cargo vessels that each carry Marine Corps
to support a Marine
Air-Ground Task Force
for 30 days.
The four combat force ships provide rapid-response delivery of
equipment to ground troops. Three are Lighter aboard ships
(LASH) which carry
barges called Lighter
Army ammunition to be ferried ashore.
Five logistics vessels service the rapid delivery requirements of
the U.S. Air Force
and Defense Logistics Agency
. There are
two Air Force container ships
munitions, missiles and spare parts; a 500-bed hospital ship
, and two floating storage and
assigned to Military Sealift Command
the Defense Logistics
, including an offshore petroleum discharge
(OPDS) tanker ship
Diego Garcia is one of the five control bases for the Global Positioning System
operated by the US military. The US Air Force also has monitoring
stations in Hawaii, Kwajalein, Ascension Island, and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The stations synchronise and update the
atomic clocks on the 24 orbiting satellites that emit the signals
used by GPS receivers.
ETOPS Emergency Landing Site
Diego Garcia may be identified as an ETOPS
(Extended Range Twin Engine Operations) emergency landing site (en
route alternate) for flight planning purposes of commercial
airliners. This allows twin engine commercial aircraft
(such as the Airbus A330, Boeing 767 or Boeing
777) to make theoretical nonstop flights between city pairs
such as Perth and Dubai
(9,013.61 km), Hong
Kong and Johannesburg (10,658 km) or Singapore and SÃ£o Paulo (15,985.41 km), all while maintaining a
suitable diversion airport within 180 minutes flying time with one
island is one of 33 emergency landing sites worldwide for the
NASA Space Shuttle.
None of these facilities has been used for a Shuttle landing.
2004 the MV Baffin Strait, often referred to as the "DGAR
shuttle," has been chartered to deliver 250 containers each month
from Singapore to Diego Garcia.
MV Baffin Strait
between Singapore and Diego Garcia once a month.
The ship carries everything
from fresh food to building supplies to aircraft parts, delivering
more than 200,000 tons of cargo to the island each year." On the
return trip to Singapore she carries recyclable metals.
In 2004 TransAtlantic Lines
outbid Sealift Incorporated
the transport contract between Singapore and Diego Garcia. The
route had previously been serviced by Sealift Inc.'s MV Sagamore
, manned by members of American Maritime Officers
. TransAtlantic Lines reportedly won the contract by
approximately 10 percent, representing a price difference of about
The Baffin Strait'
s last charter ran from January 10, 2005
to September 30, 2008 at a daily rate of US$12,550.
Red Crab, Diego Garcia.
The island is a haven for several types of crab
; hermit crabs overrun the jungle at night. The
extremely large 4 kg coconut crab
or "robber crab" is found here. The island hosts birds from many
different regions, including Indian
Barred Ground Dove
), Turtle Dove
), Indian Mynah
), Madagascar Fody
), and imported chickens (Gallus gallus
All the flora and fauna are protected, and it is even unlawful to
be in possession of a dead coconut crab. Hefty fines are levied
- UK House of Lords Judgment on Chagos Islands of 22
Them Return - The Chagos People's Homeland Campaign
- The UK Chagos Support Association: The story so
Islands Indigenous Population Internet Site
- Diego Garcia Online: Information for locals of Diego
- Official site
of the United States Navy Support Facility, Diego Garcia.
- Official site of the UK PJHQ Overseas Bases, Diego
- Diego Garcia timeline posted at the History
- Diego Garcia "Camp Justice",
- US/UK BIOT defence agreements, 1966-1982, U.S.
- Where in the World Is Diego Garcia?,
- Diego Garcia: Paradise Cleansed, by John
- The Jewel in the Pentagon's Crown, by Gisle Tangenes,
- Atoll Research Bulletin 149: Geography and Ecology
of Diego Garcia Atoll
- A Return from Exile in Sight? The Chagossians and their Struggle, from the
Northwestern Journal of International Human
- Alex Doherty 'Diego Garcia', in ZNet
- Curtis, Mark Web of Deceit: Britain's Real Role in the World.
- BBC News Exiles lose appeal over benefits
- The Island is a jazz opera commissioned
and broadcast in the 60's on radio themed on events in Garcia Diego
written by William Russo, words Adrian Mitchell performed by the
Russo Orchestra sung by Cleo Lane and Denis Quilley
- A Black and Disgraceful Site by Jonathan Freedland from The New York Review of