Snake Island (Black Sea)

Snake Island (Black Sea)
Snake Island
Native name: Острів Зміїний
Ostriv Zmiinyi
Snake Island (Black Sea) is located in Ukraine
Snake Island (Black Sea) (Ukraine)
Location Black Sea
Coordinates 45°15′N 30°12′E / 45.25°N 30.2°E / 45.25; 30.2
Area 0.17 km2 (0.066 sq mi)
Length 0.662 km (0.4113 mi)
Width 0.440 km (0.2734 mi)
Highest elevation 41 m (135 ft)
Highest point N/A
Oblast Odessa
Raion Kiliya
Municipality Vylkove
Largest city Bile
Population 100[clarification needed]
Density 588.24 /km2 (1,523.53 /sq mi)

Coordinates: 45°15′18″N 30°12′15″E / 45.255°N 30.20417°E / 45.255; 30.20417 Snake Island, also known as Serpent Island, (Ukrainian: Острів Зміїний, Ostriv Zmiinyi; Romanian: Insula şerpilor), is a Ukrainian island located in the Black Sea near the Danube Delta.

The island is populated. A rural settlement of Bile was established in February 2007, which is part of the Vylkove city, Kiliya Raion, Odessa Oblast. The territorial limits of the continental shelf around Snake Island were delineated by the International Court of Justice.[1]



The island is an igneous rock formation located 35 km from the coast, east of the mouth of the Danube River. The island's coordinates are 45°15′18″N 30°12′15″E / 45.255°N 30.20417°E / 45.255; 30.20417. The island is X-shaped, from S-W to N-E 690 meters by 682 meters from N-W to S-E, covering an area of 0.205 km². The highest area is 41 metres (135 ft) above sea level. The island does not have a prominently featured mountain, but rather a low-slope hill.

The nearest coast location to Snake Island is Kubanskyi Island on the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta, located 35 km (22 mi) away between the Bystroe Channel and Skhidnyi Channel. The closest Romanian coast city, Sulina is 45 km (28 mi) away. The closest Ukrainian city is Vylkove, 50 km (31 mi), however there also is a port Ust-Dunaisk, 44 km (27 mi) away from the island.

In the coastal waters 50 fish and six crab species have been recorded, some of which are included in the Red Book of Ukraine. A presidential decree of 9 December 1998, Number 1341/98, declared the island and coastal waters as a state protected area. The total area protected covers 232 hectares.

Population and infrastructure

About 100 inhabitants live on the island, mostly frontier guard servicemen with their families and technical personnel. Since 2003 from the initiative of the Odessa National University of I. I. Mechnikov on the island, the marine research station "Zmiiniy island" was established in which scientists and students from the University every year conduct research on local fauna, flora, geology, meteorology, atmospheric chemistry, hydrobiology, etc.

The island is currently demilitarized and under rapid development. In accordance with a 1997 Treaty between Romania and Ukraine, the Ukrainian authorities withdrew an army radio division, demolished a military radar, and transferred all other infrastructure to civilians. Eventually the Romania-Ukraine international relationships have soured (see "Maritime delimitation" section) when Romania tried to convince that the island is no more than a rock in the sea. In February 2007, the Verkhovna Rada has approved establishing a rural settlement as part of Vylkove city which is located some distance away at the mouth of Danube. However, the island has been continually populated even before although not officially.

In addition to a helicopter platform, in 2002 a pier has been built for ships with up to 8 meter draught, and construction of a harbor is underway. The island is supplied with navigation equipment, including a 150-year old lighthouse. Electric power is provided by a dual solar/diesel power station. The island also has an adequately developed civil infrastructure such as the marine research station, a post office, a bank (branch of the Ukrainian bank "Aval"), the first-aid station, a satellite television provider, a phone network, a cell phone tower, and an Internet link.


Snake Island Lighthouse
Insula Serpilor in 1896.JPG
The lighthouse on the background in 1896.
General information
Type service
Town or city Bile (Vylkove)
Country Ukraine
Elevation 40 metres (130 ft)
Completed autumn 1842
Height 12 metres (39 ft)
Design and construction
Main contractor Black Sea Fleet

The Snake Island Lighthouse was built in the fall of 1842[2] by the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Empire. The lighthouse is an octahedral-shaped building, 12 meters tall, located near the highest elevated area of the island, 40 meters above the sea level. The lighthouse built on site of the previously destroyed temple of Achilles is adjacent to a housing building. The remnants of the Greek temple were found in 1823.

As lighthouse technology progressed, in 1860 new lighthouse lamps were bought from England, and one of them was installed in the Lighthouse in 1862. In the early 1890s a new kerosene lamp was installed, with lamp rotating equipment and flat lenses. It improved the lighthouse visibility to up to 20 miles (32 km).

The lighthouse was heavily damaged during World War II by Soviet aviation and German retreating forces. It was restored at the end of 1944 by the Odessa military radio detachment. In 1949 it was further reconstructed and equipped by the Black Sea Fleet. The lighthouse was further upgraded in 1975 and 1984. In 1988 a new radio beacon "KPM-300" was installed with radio signal range of 150 miles (240 km).

In August 2004, the lighthouse was equipped with a radio beacon "Yantar-2M-200", which provides differential correction signal for global navigation satellite systems GPS and GLONASS.

The lighthouse is listed as UKR 050 by ARLHS, EU-182 by IOTA, and BS-07 by UIA.


The island was named, by the Greeks, Λευκός, Leuce Island ("White Island"), similarly known by Romans as Alba, probably because of the white marble formations that can be found on the isle. The uninhabited Isle Achilleis ("of Achilles") was the major sanctuary of the Achaean hero, where "seabirds dipped their wings in water to sweep the temples clean" (Kyriazis). Several temples of Thracian Apollo can be found here, and there are submerged ruins.

According to an epitome of the lost Trojan War epic of Arctinus of Miletus, the remains of Achilles and Patroclus were brought to this island by Thetis, to be put in a sanctuary. Ruins believed to be of a square temple dedicated to Achilles, 30 meters to a side, were discovered by Captain Kritzikly in 1823. Ovid, who was banished to Tomis, mentions the island; so do Ptolemy and Strabo.[3] The island is described in Pliny's Natural History, IV.27.1.

Several ancient inscriptions were found on the island, including a 4th century BC Olbiopolitan decree which praises someone for defeating and driving out the pirates that lived on the "holy island".

Modern history

Ostriv Zmiinyi by Carlo Bossoli

The Greeks during the times of Ottoman Empire renamed it Fidonisi (English: Snake Island) and the island gave its name to the naval Battle of Fidonisi. The battle between Ottoman and Russian fleets took place near the island in 1788 in the course of Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792.

In 1829, following the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, the island became part of the Russian Empire until 1856.

In 1877, following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, the Ottoman Empire gave the island and Northern Dobrudzha region, as a reimbursement for the Russian annexation of Romania's southern Bessarabia region.

The Paris Peace Treaties of 1947 between the protagonists of World War II ceded Northern Bukovina, the Hertza region, Budjak, and Bessarabia to the USSR but made no mention of the mouths of the Danube and Ostriv Zmiinyi.

Until 1948, Snake Island was considered part of the Romanian coastal city of Sulina. In 1948, the Soviets forced the Romanian side (occupied by Soviet troops) to accept the "transfer" of Snake Island to the Soviet Union, as well as to accept to move the Romanian border in the Danube Delta towards the west, in favour of the USSR (resulting in the annexation of Limba Island by the USSR). Romania has strongly disputed the validity of this "treaty", since it was never ratified by any of the two countries, which would make the Limba Island and Snake Island de jure Romanian territory.

The same year, in 1948, during the Cold War, a Soviet radar post was built on the isle (for both naval and anti-aircraft purposes).

The Soviet Union's possession of Snake Island was confirmed in the Treaty between the Government of the People's Republic of Romania and the Government of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics on the Romanian-Soviet State Border Regime, Collaboration and Mutual Assistance on Border Matters, signed in Bucharest on February 27, 1961.

Between 1967 and 1987, the USSR and Romanian side were negotiating the delimitation of the continental shelf. The Romanian side refused to accept a Russian offer of 4000 km² out of 6000 km² around the island in 1987.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine inherited control over the island. A number of Romanian parties and organizations consistently claimed it should be included in its territory. According to the Romanian side, in the peace treaties of 1918 and 1920 (after WWI), the isle was considered part of Romania, and it was not mentioned in the 1947 border-changing treaty between Romania and the Soviet Union.

In 1997, Romania and Ukraine signed a treaty in which both states "reaffirm that the existing border between them is inviolable and therefore, they shall refrain, now and in future, from any attempt against the border, as well as from any demand, or act of, seizure and usurpation of part or all the territory of the Contracting Party". However, both sides have agreed that if no resolution on maritime borders can be reached within two years, then either side can go to the International Court of Justice to seek a final ruling.

Maritime delimitation

The status of Snake Island was important for delimitation of continental shelf and exclusive economic zones between the two countries. If Snake Island were recognized as an island, then continental shelf around it should be considered as Ukrainian water. If Snake Island were not an island, but a cliff, then in accordance with international law the maritime boundary between Romania and Ukraine should be drawn without taking into consideration the isle location.

On 16 September 2004 the Romanian side brought a case against Ukraine to the International Court of Justice in a dispute concerning the maritime boundary between the two States in the Black Sea.[4]

On February 3, 2009, the court delivered its judgment,[5] which divided the sea area of the Black Sea along a line which was between the claims of each country. The court concluded that Snake Island is not an island, therefore it "should have no effect on the delimitation in this case, other than that stemming from the role of the 12-nautical-mile arc of its territorial sea".

References and footnotes

  1. ^ International Court of Justice: Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea (Romania v. Ukraine)
  2. ^ Vitrenko's Odessa website (Russian)
  3. ^ Geography, book II.5.22
  4. ^ "Romania brings a case against Ukraine to the Court in a dispute concerning the maritime boundary between the two States in the Black Sea" (PDF). International Court of Justice. September 16, 2004. 
  5. ^ "The Court establishes the single maritime boundary delimiting the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones of Romania and Ukraine". International Court of Justice. February 3, 2009. 

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