Magazine article Risk Management

Location, Location, Location

Magazine article Risk Management

Location, Location, Location

Article excerpt

A little less than halfway between Sicily and Tunisia is an underwater volcano that periodically builds up enough lava to break through the surface, forming an island. This was first discovered by Roman sailors long ago, and since then it has risen and disappeared beneath the waves at least four or five times, leading some mariners to believe that the place had magical powers. How else could it rise and fall beneath the water like that?

The most recent sighting was in 1831, when British sailors on board the naval frigate HM5 Rapid watched in astonishment as the tip of the volcano rose from the water. Naming it Graham Island and claiming it for the crown, the British felt they had scored a coup since the island was strategically located as a shipping terminal and a military checkpoint. Never mind that Graham Island was nothing more than a lump of cool volcanic basalt; to the British, this was golden real estate. However, the nearby Sicilians thought the same thing, and they promptly sailed out, removed the Union Jack the British sailors had planted on the island and re-named it Ferdinandea, in honor of Ferdinand II, monarch of the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. (The modern nation of Italy would not be formed for another 30 years.)

France and Spain both claimed the island as well, touching off a diplomatic squabble that filled European newspapers with increasingly heated rhetoric for months. It got to the point where some wondered if military action would be required to settle the matter. All the while, curious tourists sailed to Ferdinandea to see it for themselves and perhaps hike to its 60-meter peak, amid the noxious volcanic gases constantly issuing from the rock. The House of Bourbon even planned to build an exclusive holiday resort there.

Thankfully, the situation resolved itself in December 1861 when tectonic activity sunk the island once more beneath the waves. One can only imagine the discomfort among those who wanted to fight over the island. After all, the only thing worse than going to war over a lump of volcanic rock is to do so and then watch it vanish a month later.

Ferdinandea has remained under about 8 meters of water ever since 1831, but that doesn't mean it has been forgotten. …

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