By Allan Wall
August 25, 2009
The Mexican Congress has discussed various issues within the past few years. One of those issues is the whereabouts of the lost island of Bermeja. Mexican lawmakers have been seeking this island, but nobody can find it.
So why does this make a difference? It has to do with oil. The U.S. and Mexico are negotiating a new agreement on oil drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico. If Bermeja Island actually exists, that would push Mexico’s territorial waters out further, giving the country more of the western “Doughnut Hole,” a part of the Gulf believed to contain great oil reserves.
The problem for Mexico is the island has not been located.
Bermeja is said to be a lowlying island located at 22.3 degrees north latitude and 91.22 degrees west longitude. That is about 100 miles northwest of Mexico’s Yutcatan Peninsula. Click here for an old map showing the island (spelled Vermeja).
(In the Spanish language, the island in question is referred to as La Isla Bermeja (the Island Bermeja) or alternatively El Islote Bermejo (the Islet Bermejo). Bermeja/Bermejo is from an old Spanish word for blonde/reddish, from the island’s color.)
The island has been mentioned in the nautical literature since the 1500s and has appeared on various nautical charts throughout the intervening centuries. It was Spanish territory, then inherited by Mexico upon that country’s independence.
In 1997, a Mexican navy expedition looked for, but did not find, Bermeja.
Interest in both houses of the Mexican Congress has been expressed, especially with the bilateral agreement with the United States looming.
There are several explanations afoot to explain the island’s disappearance.
One is that Bermeja was sunk by a seaquake or some kind of tectonic shift in the ocean floor.
Then there’s the Al Gore explanation – it was sunk by global warming.
A conspiracy theory advanced by others is that the island was intentionally blown up by the CIA, so the United States could drill more oil.
Another explanation is that the island simply never existed, that somebody mistook something else for an island back in the 1500s, and the maps just kept copying and recopying Bermeja Island through the centuries. That’s called a “phantom island” and it’s happened before.
The official version of the Mexican government is that the island sunk naturally due to climactic and tectonic factors. Naturally, this provides grist to the mill of the CIA conspiracy theory, that the Mexican government is in cahoots with the U.S. government.
Some in Congress (from both the right and the left) have called Mexican President Calderon to account for the lost island. One statement from certain senators implied that the island had been deliberately sunk: "a force of nature (able to sink an island) does not take place without anyone noticing, and much less so when it is sitting in an area with more than 22 billion barrels of oil reserves."
British maps, interestingly enough, have reported the sinking of the island since way back in 1844.
This year, 2009, at the behest of the Maritime Committtee in the Mexican House of Representatives, an extensive search for the island was carried out by the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico).
This expedition went to Bermeja’s supposed location, and searched by sea and air. On the surface, 223 square kilometers were gone over, with over 10,488 square kilometers searched by air. Under the sea, soundings went down 472 meters.
The result – nothing. They just didn’t find Bermeja Island where it was supposed to be located.
Arturo Carranza, of the UNAM investigation, believes that Bermeja never existed in its supposed location, but it did exist somewhere else until it disappeared.
In a hearing in the Mexican Congress the UNAM Bermeja team vowed to keep looking.
On September 1st, 2009, an entire new Mexican House of Representatives is set to take office. Will the new maritime committee take up the search for Bermeja Island?
Here’s one suggestion. The maritime committee could outfit a vessel and go themselves to the Gulf of Mexico to seek Bermeja Island. And while they’re at it, they could look for Captain Kidd’s treasure too!
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An even more radical proposal would be that Mexican lawmakers would undertake a thoroughgoing reform of Mexico’s state oil monopoly PEMEX. They might do so along the lines of Brazil’s PETROBRAS, which has combined public and private ownership to become a leader in offshore drilling. That’s up to them of course.
Seriously reforming PEMEX is not as romantic as seeking lost islands, but it might do Mexico more good in the long run.
© 2009 Allan Wall - All Rights Reserved
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Allan Wall recently returned to the U.S. after residing many years in Mexico.