Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

Population: No indigenous population

Economy: The main sources of revenue are from the sale of fishing licences, passenger landings and harbour administration charges, sale of stamps and commemorative coins. Main items of expenditure are fisheries administration costs and research, fisheries protection, conservation projects, production of stamps and support for the South Georgia Museum.


527.  South Georgia is an isolated, mountainous sub-Antarctic island about 1,390 kilometres south east of the Falkland Islands and about 2,150 kilometres east of Tierra del Fuego. Surrounded by cold waters originating from the Antarctic, South Georgia has a harsher climate than expected from its latitude. More than 50% of the island is covered by permanent ice with many large glaciers reaching the sea at the head of fjords. The main mountain range, the Allardyce Range, has its highest point at Mount Paget (2960 metres). The South Sandwich Islands consist of a chain of 11 volcanic islands some 350 kilometres long. Some of these islands are still active. The climate is wholly Antarctic. In the late winter the Islands may be surrounded by pack ice.


528.  The first landing on South Georgia was that of Captain James Cook in 1775. Thereafter, South Georgia was much visited by sealers of many nationalities who reaped a rich harvest from the immense number of fur seals and elephant seals that frequented the shores. Britain annexed South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) by Letters Patent in 1908. Since then, the Islands have been under continuous British occupation, apart from a short period of illegal Argentine occupation in 1982. Throughout much of the last century South Georgia was the centre of land-based whaling in the Southern Hemisphere and whaling stations operated under licence from the British administration.

Constitutional status

529.  The Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is at the same time Governor of the Falkland Islands. Under the SGSSI constitution, he consults the Falkland Islands Executive Council on matters which he considers might affect the Falkland Islands. The Commissioner is assisted by the First Secretary at Government House in Stanley who is concurrently Assistant Commissioner. The government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is also administered from Government House by a Chief Executive Officer who is also Director of Fisheries. There is also an Executive Officer and a Habitat Restoration Officer, as well as a Government Officer who is based in South Georgia. The Attorney General and Financial Secretary from the Falkland Islands fulfil parallel roles in SGSSI.

530.  The Commissioner depends on the advice of the Commander, British Forces (South Atlantic Islands) on matters concerning defence or internal security of the Islands. Following the end of the Argentine occupation of 1982, a small garrison was maintained at King Edward Point on South Georgia but this was withdrawn in March 2001. At the same time, a new scientific research facility was opened. The British Antarctic Survey's (BAS) scientific and support team which occupies and runs the research station augments the existing civilian presence on the Island. The BAS undertakes a programme of scientific research under contract to the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, with the aim of supporting the Government in its environmental management and sustainable development of the Territory.

531.  Argentina asserts a claim to sovereignty over SGSSI, but the FCO states that "Britain has no doubt about" its sovereignty of SGSSI and "does not regard it as negotiable".[692]

Evidence received


Key recommendation

  • We conclude that the Government was right to submit a claim to the UN Commission for the Limits of the Continental Shelf for the seabed around Ascension Island. We recommend that the Government should submit a similar claim for the continental shelf around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. We also recommend that the Government should in its response to this Report state its current policy on seabed claims in relation to the continental shelf around the British Antarctic Territory. (para 427)

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