Located in the centre of the Indian Ocean the Chagos Archipelago or Chagos Islands (formerly the Bassas de Chagas, and later the Oil Islands) is a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual tropical islands in the Indian Ocean; situated some 500 kilometres due south of the Maldives archipelago.
Chagos has had a chequered history, being ‘owned’ by the Portugese, French and now the English via the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Authority. It has been managed from Mauritius, Seychelles and now from London. It had a well developed copra industry and an established population with schools, churches, shops and appropriate infrastructure. Between 1967 and 1973 the main islands of Diego Garcia and Boddam were depopulated. England had leased Diego Garcia to the USA for 50 years, plus a 20-year option. Diego Garcia is now the largest USA military base on it outside the USA. Cruising sailors then became the only people ‘allowed’ to visit Chagos, with Diego Garcia strictly off limits.
The Chagossians have continued their fight to return home in the courts and although they have won this right, the whole area was recently declared by the UK as the world’s largest Marine Park in 2010.
This allowed for no permanent habitation of the Atolls. This declaration also had a huge impact on anyone sailing to Chagos. Cruising boats can now stay for only four weeks, and then only after satisfying BIOT’s requirements including wreck removal insurance and medical evacuation insurance.
The old church, the school, bakery and many other buildings are in various stages of decay. There is a cemetery at the north-western end of the island and many stone dwellings throughout the island, all struggling against the jungle of creepers and the invasive plantation coconut palms. We feel privileged to be here though also saddened that the Chagossians are not yet allowed to return to their islands.