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The Past

THE ISLANDS - Abu Musa


The island of Abu Musa, 60 kilometres north of the UAE's Arabian Gulf coast, has been part of the sheikhdoms that now comprise the United Arab Emirates for hundreds of years, and has since the 1920s been ruled from Sharjah. Iran has illegally occupied the northern part since November 1971.

Nearly 15 kilometres in circumference, and roughly circular, it has a maximum diameter of 5 kilometres, and rises to over 100 metres at its highest point, Jebel Halwa. Most of the island is, however, low-lying. The shallow waters immediately surrounding the island rapidly plunge to depths of well over 60 metres.

Nothing is known of the wildlife or archaeology of the island, but Abu Musa is believed to have been a major stopping-off point for sailors up and down the Gulf for thousands of years. Historical records state that the island was also used as a base for fishing and for the grazing of livestock after winter rains. Red oxide (haematite) deposits on the island were mined briefly by a German company on the island at the beginning of the twentieth century, leading to a diplomatic row between Germany and Britain, which then handled foreign policy for the Emirates.

Several hundred inhabitants now live on the part of the island administered by the UAE. The UAE has offered to hold bilateral talks on ownership of the island or to submit the issue to international arbitration, but Iran has refused.