SEE-HONDURAS

Swam Island - Isla Cisne

SWAM ISLAND Swam Island, Honduras, c.a.

Islas del Cisne (The Swan Islands) lie in relative isolation in the Western Caribbean Sea at latitude 17 deg. N. and longitude 83 deg. W. off the coast of Honduras. (Approximately ninety-five miles north of the coast of Honduras and three hundred twenty miles west of Jamaica.) The islands are 400 miles from Key West, Florida, and 500 miles from New Orleans.


Three islands constitute the Swan Island chain. Great Swan, Little Swan, and Booby Cay. Fringing reefs are developed around the perimeter of the islands with the most extensive reef growth occurring along the northern shores.
 

Great Swan is nearly two miles in length with a maximum elevation of 68 feet. Little Swan is about 1.5 miles in length by 0.3 miles wide with a maximum elevation of 78 feet. Booby Cay is a small cay off the southwestern tip of Great Swan only about 100 yards long. One can easily walk to the cay from Great Swan at low tide.

Islas Cisne, Honduras, c.a.

In 1863 the area was certified as islands appertaining to the United States under the Guano Islands Act of August 18, 1856 (Title 48, U.S. Code, sections 1411-19), and guano operations were carried on there for many years.


The United States' later interests in the Swan Islands involved agricultural production in coconut plantations and aids to navigation and communications, resulting in continued United States occupation and use of the islands. In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on November 22, 1971, American and Honduran representatives signed a treaty by which the United States recognized Honduras' long-standing claim to sovereignty over the Swan Islands. The treaty entered into force on September 1, 1972. In 1982, the
Swan Islands were named as a territory of Honduras in the Honduran Constitution.

 

Fringing reefs are developed around the perimeter of the islands with the most extensive reef growth occurring along the northern shores. Great Swan is nearly two miles in length with a maximum elevation of 68 feet. Little Swan is about 1.5 miles in length by 0.3 miles wide with a maximum elevation of 78 feet. Booby Cay is a small cay off the southwestern tip of Great Swan only about 100 yards long. One can easily walk to the cay from Great Swan at low tide.

 

The climate on the islands is about the same as that of the surrounding seas with daytime average highs in the 80's and overnight lows in the 70's. August is the hottest month, averaging about 83 degrees and January is the coldest with an average of about 78. Rainfall averages about 50 inches per year but is quite variable (37-80 inches). The driest seasons are from January to May, and the wettest are from June to December.Swam Island, Honduras, c.a.

The islands have had an interesting history. The following historical information was taken from an article written by Edwin Weigel published in NOAA (1973). The islands were named after Captain Swan, master of the CYGNET. He was sent to the Caribbean by London merchants with a cargo to sell. His ship was reportedly attacked by Pirates in 1680 and he was forced to join them. It is believed that Captain Swan may then have become one of the buccaneers who dominated the area.

According to information obtained from an interview of Sumner Smith by a reporter for the New York Times, Richard Severo, Mr. Smith's family had been part owner of the Swan Island Commercial Company who took title to the islands form Captain Alonzo Adams, who had sailed there from Mobile Alabama in 1893 and staked a claim.



In the early 1900's the Swan Island Commercial Company leased part of Great Swan to the United Fruit Co. which planted thousands of coconut palms. The company pulled out after a time. The company provided weather data for hurricanes from 1928 until 1932.

The U.S. Weather Bureau established a part-time weather station there in 1938. It was manned only during hurricane seasons. It became a year-round operation in the early 1940's. In the late 1940's, after World War II, the U.S. Agriculture Department used Great Swan as quarantine station for Latin-American cattle destined for the U.S. The project was abandoned in 1949.

An aircraft radio-navigation beacon was installed on Great Swan in 1946 for guidance of Caribbean air traffic. It was operated by the FAA until 1971 when the FAA pulled out leaving only the U.S. Weather Service. In 1960, a census was taken of the island by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. There were 28 people living on the island, 19 Caymanians, three Hondurans, and 6 U.S. citizens attached either to the Weather Bureau or the FAA radio station.

Islas Cisnes, Honduras, c.a.

In 1960, a 50,000 watt radio station was set up on Great Swan and began broadcasting programs in Spanish. This occurred shortly after Fidel Castro took over Cuba and was denoted by Castro as being a propaganda voice for expatriate Cubans. The station was reported to be owned by a New York Firm, the Gibraltar Steamship Company which did not operate steamships. The station, known as Radio Swan, was changed in 1961 to Radio America and the headquarters moved to Miami.

Shortly after this the Kennedy Administration began negotiations with the Hondurans to settle a dispute over the sovereignty of the islands. The Honduran Government had laid claim to the islands in the 1920's but did not press the claim until the 1960's. They maintained that when Columbus made his maiden voyage to the New World, he stopped at the Swan Islands in 1502 to pick up wood.


This, they claimed, made the islands part of the Spanish colonial empire to which Honduras was the rightful heir. The U.S. Government said that Secretary of State William Seward laid claim to the islands for the U.S. in 1863.

The Government said that George White landed on the islands in 1857, claiming them for the U.S., and that a commercial company began exporting guano in 1858. Sumner Smith tried to press his claim in a court suit but a federal judge ruled in favor of the U.S. in 1970 clearing the way for the transfer to Honduras. The transfer was made to Honduras in 1972 with the agreement that the U.S. would continue to operate the weather station

Spencer Bennett and Randolph Moore
Heroes on Islas Del Cisne

In 1975 - Operators of the Meteorological Station on the Swan Islands (Islas Del Cisne) received the Gold Medal Award as recognition for their part in the saving of many lives. They are now honored permanently in the historical section of the official NOAA website .

National Weather Service/Weather Bureau
NOAA Hall of Honor

1975 Gold Medal

Spencer Bennett and Randolph Moore, Islas Del Cisne Meteorological Station, Honduras -- Messrs. Bennett and Moore are recognized for heroic action during a storm, December 10, 1974, on Islas Del Cisne (Swan Island), a tiny weather observing outpost in the Caribbean. During this storm they rescued 19 shipwrecked fishermen at a great risk to their own lives.

 

Swam Island, Honduras, c.a.

The Honduran fishing vessel LUCKY GIRL encountered heavy seas about 20 miles northwest of Islas Del Cisne. The hull ruptured and the ship began to sink rapidly. The Captain sent an SOS and then ordered all hands to abandon ship. The SOS was picked up by the Swan Island Meteorological Station, and personnel there responded immediately.

 

The Swan Islanders launched two small motorboats into the rough seas to seek survivors of the LUCKY GIRL. Demonstrating superb seamanship in heavy seas in outboard motorboats, they successfully searched out and towed to Swan Island eight dugout canoes, containing nineteen men. Because of their courage, not a single life was lost.

 




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