British Indian Ocean Territory

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Formerly administered as part of the British Crown Colony of Mauritius, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was established as an overseas territory of the UK in 1965. A number of the islands of the territory were later transferred to the Seychelles when it attained independence in 1976. Subsequently, BIOT has consisted only of the six main island groups comprising the Chagos Archipelago. Only Diego Garcia, the largest and most southerly of the islands, is inhabited. It contains a joint UK-US naval support facility and hosts one of four dedicated ground antennas (the others are on Ascension (Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha), Kwajalein (Marshall Islands), and at Cape Canaveral, Florida (US)) that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system. The US Air Force also operates a telescope array on Diego Garcia as part of the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System (GEODSS) for tracking orbital debris, which can be a hazard to spacecraft and astronauts.

Between 1967 and 1973, former agricultural workers, earlier residents in the islands, were relocated primarily to Mauritius, but also to the Seychelles. Negotiations between 1971 and 1982 resulted in the establishment of a trust fund by the British Government as compensation for the displaced islanders, known as Chagossians. Beginning in 1998, the islanders pursued a series of lawsuits against the British Government seeking further compensation and the right to return to the territory. In 2006 and 2007, British court rulings invalidated the immigration policies contained in the 2004 BIOT Constitution Order that had excluded the islanders from the archipelago, but upheld the special military status of Diego Garcia. In 2008, the House of Lords, as the final court of appeal in the UK, ruled in favor of the British Government by overturning the lower court rulings and finding no right of return for the Chagossians.

Geography

Location

archipelago in the Indian Ocean, south of India, about halfway between Africa and Indonesia

Geographic coordinates

6.00° S, 71.30° E; note - Diego Garcia 7.20° S, 72.25° E

Area 128/257

total: 54,400 sq km

land: 60 sq km; Diego Garcia 44 sq km

water: 54,340 sq km

note: includes the entire Chagos Archipelago of 55 islands

Area - comparative

land area is about 0.3 times the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

0 km

Coastline

698 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 3 nm

exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm

Climate

tropical marine; hot, humid, moderated by trade winds

Terrain

flat and low (most areas do not exceed two m in elevation)

Elevation

mean elevation:

elevation extremes:

lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m

highest point: unnamed location on Diego Garcia 15 m

Natural resources

coconuts, fish, sugarcane

Land use

agricultural land: 0%

arable land 0%; permanent crops 0%; permanent pasture 0%

forest: 0%

other: 100% (2011 est.)

Natural hazards

NA

Environment - current issues

NA

Geography - note

archipelago of 55 islands; Diego Garcia, largest and southernmost island, occupies strategic location in central Indian Ocean; island is site of joint US-UK military facility

People and Society

Population

no indigenous inhabitants

note: approximately 1,200 former agricultural workers resident in the Chagos Archipelago, often referred to as Chagossians or Ilois, were relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles in the 1960s and 1970s; approximately 3,000 UK and US military personnel and civilian contractors were living on the island of Diego Garcia

Government

Country name

conventional long form: British Indian Ocean Territory

conventional short form: none

abbreviation: BIOT

Legal system

the laws of the UK, where applicable, apply

Executive branch

chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952)

head of government: Commissioner Dr. Peter HAYES (since 17 October 2012); Administrator John MCMANUS (since April 2011); note - both reside in the UK and are represented by the officer commanding British Forces on Diego Garcia

cabinet: NA

elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; commissioner and administrator appointed by the monarch

Flag description

white with six blue wavy horizontal stripes; the flag of the UK is in the upper hoist-side quadrant; the striped section bears a palm tree and yellow crown (the symbols of the territory) centered on the outer half of the flag; the wavy stripes represent the Indian Ocean; although not officially described, the six blue stripes may stand for the six main atolls of the archipelago

Economy

Economy - overview

All economic activity is concentrated on the largest island of Diego Garcia, where a joint UK-US military facility is located. Construction projects and various services needed to support the military installation are performed by military and contract employees from the UK, Mauritius, the Philippines, and the US. Some of the natural resources found in this territory include coconuts, fish, and sugarcane. Sugarcane is still a major export for this territory. There are no industrial or agricultural activities on the islands. The territory earns foreign exchange by selling fishing licenses and postage stamps.

Exchange rates

the US dollar is used

Communications

Telephone system

general assessment: separate facilities for military and public needs are available

domestic: all commercial telephone services are available, including connection to the Internet

international: country code (Diego Garcia) - 246; international telephone service is carried by satellite (2000)

Broadcast media

Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) broadcasts over 3 separate frequencies for US and UK military personnel stationed on the islands (2009)

Radio broadcast stations

AM 1, FM 2, shortwave 0 (1998)

Television broadcast stations

1 (1997)

Internet country code

.io

Internet hosts 85/232

75,006 (2012)

Transportation

Airports 213/236

1 (2013)

Airports - with paved runways

total: 1

over 3,047 m: 1 (2013)

Roadways

note: short section of paved road between port and airfield on Diego Garcia

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Diego Garcia

Military and Security

Military branches

no regular military forces (2014)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

Mauritius and Seychelles claim the Chagos Islands; negotiations between 1971 and 1982 resulted in the establishment of a trust fund by the British Government as compensation for the displaced islanders, known as Chagossians, who were evicted between 1967-73; in 2001, the former inhabitants of the archipelago were granted UK citizenship and the right of return; in 2006 and 2007, British court rulings invalidated the immigration policies contained in the 2004 BIOT Constitution Order that had excluded the islanders from the archipelago; in 2008 a House of Lords' decision overturned lower court rulings, once again denying the right of return to Chagossians; in addition, the United Kingdom created the world's largest marine protection area around the Chagos islands prohibiting the extraction of any natural resources therein