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New Rules and Mooring Co-ordinates for Visitors to Chagos: A Letter to the BIOT Administration

By doina — last modified Jan 26, 2007 11:01 AM

Published: 2007-01-26 11:01:55
Countries: BIOT (Chagos)

The Commissioner, British Indian Ocean Administration

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street

London SW1A 2AH, United Kingdom

Email: BIOTadmin@fco.gov.uk

December 21st 2006

RE: New Rules and Mooring Co-ordinates for Visitors to Chagos

Dear Sir/Madam:

We have transited through Chagos on various occasions as a logical stop-over on passage across the Indian Ocean and since we very much enjoy nature and are literally “friends of Chagos” we have visited most of the permitted anchorages and islands over the past years. We would like to bring to your attention the local situation and the feasibility of mooring sites based on personal observations and experience.

Permitted Mooring Sites In Chagos

Modern sailing yachts have been stopping over at Chagos for the past 35-40 years without having any real impact on the diversity or quantity of coral or marine life in the area. The true damage is done by severe storms, El Nino effects and global warming and in more recent times to a large extent by poaching fishermen cleaning the reefs of sea-cucumbers and crustaceans and killing hundreds and thousands of sharks for their fins only. Yachtspeople have actually been instrumental in preventing even more damage by illegal fishermen by informing the Fisheries Patrol Vessel of their presence whenever possible.

On the same note visiting yachts have not had any detrimental effect on either flora or fauna on the islands. The vegetation on the islands has, in fact, become so dense that it is difficult if not impossible to walk through in many places.

All of the above will certainly be confirmed by visiting marine biologists and scientists.

With regards to the proposed mooring co-ordinates it is quite clear that they were defined without taking into account even the most basic concepts of small-craft seamanship, ignoring every aspect of safety or practicability. Not a single shallow sand patch is included, on the contrary, it almost seems as if they were omitted on purpose, since the boundaries of the designated sites often end shortly before they reach the sand – yet sand/mud is what yacht anchors are primarily designed for. Under the new BIOT mooring regulations not one suitable shallow anchorage in sand remains! Furthermore, the requirement for safe shelter for small craft has not been considered and no provisions whatsoever have been made for wind shifts to the east, easterlies also being the prevailing winds from June to November. In addition, most mooring sites have been placed in such deep waters, that only very large ships carrying vast amounts of chain will be able to anchor there - weather permitting.

Looking at the designated mooring sites in particular you may wish to note the following:

  • The co-ordinates for the mooring sites are given in ddmmss. The more commonly used format is ddmm.mm because it can be plotted directly onto all modern WGS 84 charts without prior conversion thus eliminating possible errors (e.g. British Chart No. 725 from 2001 “Plans in Chagos Archipelago”).
  • Peros Banhos - Diamant Island: The area bounded by the co-ordinates lies entirely in waters around 35 meters. It is impossible for small yachts to anchor in these depths. On the other hand, the suitable shallow sandbanks that lie on either side of the given site and which are entirely free of coral are not included.
  • Peros Banhos - Ile du Coin: This area also lies in waters around 30 meters of depth (contrary to what the chart suggests) and as such is too deep for all but very large yachts carrying vast amounts of anchor chain. And again, the suitable sandy areas off Ile Anglaise, Ile Monpatre or the east of Ile du Coin are excluded.

Suggested Anchorages in Peros Banhos: Sandy bottoms of varying depths along the coast of the permitted western islands, incl. Fouquet Island (where the Fisheries Patrol Vessel also anchors in SE winds), providing shelter for yachts from NNE to W to SE winds, depending on location. This allows the captain to anchor the vessel at his/her own discretion and to select the safest spot with regards to wind and swells. Sudden wind shifts are common and yachts have to be able to up-anchor any time. Once the SE-trades are well-established Peros Banhos offers no secure anchorage and is completely free of yachts.

Salomon - Boddam Island: Here the anchorage area is placed away from shore and the shelter of the island into fairly open waters. The co-ordinates given enclose an area that is mostly quite deep and yachts will have to use a large quantity of chain to ensure safe holding in this depth.

Salomon - Anglaise Island: This is the most questionable location of all. No responsible captain will attempt to anchor here endangering the vessel in the vast amount of coral and impractical depths. In all but W to NW’ly winds this spot offers no shelter.

Suggested Anchorages in Salomon: An extension of the site at Boddam to include the more sheltered areas closer inshore when using the temporary mooring technique of tying a rope/chain around a boulder. This method of mooring has been successful for many years in preserving the surrounding corals. The sand/rubble area to the south of the reef facing Ile Diable also offers good anchorage for small vessels and has been used for years.

In easterly (ENE – SSE) wind conditions the only safe shelter from wind and swells is found off Takamaka and Fouquet Island. Here there are many suitable sandy patches and the deeper bottom around 15-20 meters also consists mainly of sand. This important location for safe anchorage needs to be included in the new mooring regulations since none of the proposed mooring sites offers protection from easterly winds.

The concept of small-craft anchoring is very different to that of ships such as the Fisheries Patrol Vessel. Conditions that are still tolerable for a ship can actually be untenable and dangerous for a yacht and it is imperative that the captain (who is responsible for the yacht and the safety of the crew) be allowed to decide in his/her own good judgment where to anchor the vessel and when it is necessary to change location.

We appeal to you, ladies and gentlemen of the BIOT Administration, to consider the points mentioned above and to keep open suitable and safe anchorages (i.e. natural sandbanks, shallower waters and locations offering shelter from varying wind directions) making it possible for yachts to continue passing through the Northern Chagos Atolls under realistic and acceptable conditions. Cruising yachtspeople are friends of nature and as such very much aware of the concept of preservation of fauna and flora on land and underwater.

Sincerely,

Heinz Kluge and Patricia Byland

SV Papagena

(23 additional yacht names signed this letter also)

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