Blenheim Reef is an
island about 7 miles by 5 miles located in the northeastern part of the Chagos
Archipelago in the British Indian Ocean Territory. The island presents a great
lagoon that reaches a depth of about 60 feet with a passage on the southwest
end. As a result, the reef is a maritime hazard that has resulted in 57 ship
wrecks and a loss of life during the years. The nearest land is the tiny
Takamaka Island in the Salomon Islands, about 12 to 13 miles to the southwest.
The reef is entirely under water except for four small strips of land on the
Discovered in 1570, it
was not until 1845 that Blenheim Reef was populated, when guano and phosphate
were mined. This project lasted just 15 years because the transportation of
goods was a serious problem in and out the island. Some years later the island
was planted with palm trees, but this project was also abandoned when a typhoon
washed the seedlings out to sea.
Arthur Sanderson, owner of Indian Ocean Fruit
Company, grew up in England and had a fascination with tropical islands. He
went to work for a shipping company, motivated by the dream of living in a
tropical island, and quickly worked up the ranks. His eagerness to be assigned
to distant ports eventually led to him arranging for a visit to Blenheim Reef
with a fellow shipmate, Tashi, of Indian decent. Together they decided to
reclaim Blenheim Reef and restart the Indian Ocean Fruit Company around 1937.
Under Sanderson a couple of families were
kept on the islands to care for the plantings. In 1947 the island’s owner and
his family took up residence on East Island and coordinated imports and exports
for the island. During this time, the islands operated much as the Cocos
Keeling Islands operated.
It was 1953 when the
Indian Ocean Fruit Company’s owner proclaimed the islands an independent
nation. Sanderson sent letters to the United Nations and several nations
including the British Crown and neighboring nations in the Indian Ocean. There
was never an acknowledgment to any letters except for a worker in Port Louis
on Mauritius, in the Economic Development Office who knew Sanderson personally.
The primary exports are
coconut oil, copra, fish and some loose seashells and pieces of coral. In
accordance with current regulations, only loose pieces of coral and shells that
wash up on shore may be collected. A wooden boat with outboard motor is the
only source of transportation off the island and the primary source of goods
brought to the island, which is limited to about 4 to 6 trips a year.