As a British territory, all U.S. civilian and military personnel residing on the island are governed by British Indian Ocean Territory, or BIOT, law. These laws often differ from those in the United States, so attending island indoctrination to find out more is very worthwhile.
Although it is a British Territory, there are fewer than 50 British personnel on the island. The majority of these people form Naval Party 1002. Split between Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel, the Naval Party performs civil administration on Diego Garcia. Its members are tasked with either policing the locality or carrying out the duties of port or airport customs officers. In addition, the Royal Marines form a detachment that provides security for Diego Garcia and the outer islands.
The head of the BIOT Administration and the commanding officer of Naval Party 1002 is a Royal Navy commander. As the British representative, he/she fulfills a number of functions, which include positions as the magistrate, coroner and registrar of marriages.
Further, the British representative and his team take a great deal of interest in conservation issues. Diego Garcia and the other islands within BIOT are largely unspoiled, and it is important they remain so. On Diego Garcia, the old East Point Plantation area remains completely untouched since the days of the early copra plantation. Development and construction are not permitted in this area. Entrance to the plantation is restricted and a pass must be obtained from the BIOT Police Station.
The British wish you an enjoyable stay on Diego Garcia. Upon your arrival, please familiarize yourself with BIOT regulations and try to preserve the island's ecology.
As in all foreign countries, everyone arriving on Diego Garcia is subject to customs and immigration controls. A strict control is maintained on the importation of all drugs and related items, weapons of all descriptions and obscene and pornographic publications. There are severe penalties for the violation of British customs laws.
You must possess orders and an updated immunization card when traveling through all intermediate points en route to the island. A passport is not required for military personnel traveling on permanent change of station orders.
In addition to an extensive customs search at your port of departure, you and your baggage are subject to search by Diego Garcia customs officials. Weapons such as knives, spear guns, firearms or explosives are generally not allowed on the island. Knives and marlin spikes for boatswain's mates are authorized, but may only be carried on your person and worn or used in your workspace. You must declare these items when you arrive. Any other knife that violates the current three-inch maximum length--the full blade, not just the sharpened edge--will be confiscated.
In accordance with current regulations, no type of attire with degrading or obscene comments may be worn on or brought to Diego Garcia. This includes pictures, phrases or slogans depicting drug paraphernalia, anti-war slogans, ethnic slurs or issues of a sexual nature. Biker, hippie-culture or mercenary magazines will be confiscated. All obscene or pornographic publications including pornographic videos will be confiscated. All videotapes brought to Diego Garcia will be retained by British Customs for screening. Tapes will be returned within 10 days. Prohibited material will be burned by British Customs.
Health care on Diego Garcia is available at the Branch Medical Clinic. The facility is a branch clinic of Naval Hospital Yokosuka. Capabilities at the clinic are limited to basic primary and acute care only. A small pharmacy is available but medications are limited. There is no surgery capability and no inpatient capability. It is extremely important that any person coming to Diego Garcia is thoroughly screened by a qualified health care provider who is knowledgeable regarding disqualifying conditions.
Diego Garcia is located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 3000 miles from the nearest hospital that can deliver definitive care for severe injuries or illnesses. Flights off the island are irregular and often not available for extended periods.
Diego Garcia was discovered by Portuguese explorers in the early 1500s. It is the largest of 52 islands which form the Chagos Archipelago located in the heart of the Indian Ocean. The island's name is believed to have come from either the ship's captain or the navigator. Once located, the island just as quickly disappeared from maps of the Indian Ocean for many years until it was relocated and claimed by the French in the early 1700s. Diego Garcia remained under French control until after the Napoleonic Wars--about 1814--when possession was ceded to the British.
In 1965, with the formation of the British Indian Ocean Territory, Diego Garcia was under administrative control of the British government of the Seychelles. With the formation of the BIOT, a formal agreement was signed between the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States in 1966 making the island available to satisfy defense needs of both governments. In 1976, the Seychelles gained independence from England, and the BIOT became a self-administering territory under the East African Desk of the British Foreign Office.
Until 1971, Diego Garcia's main source of income was from the profitable copra oil plantation. At one time copra oil from Diego Garcia and other nearby islands provided fine machine oil and fuel to light European lamps. During approximately 70 years of plantation life, coconut harvests on Diego Garcia remained fairly constant, at about four million nuts annually, until just prior to the arrival of the U.S. Navy Seabees and the start-up of U.S. military construction.
Following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979, Diego Garcia saw the most dramatic build-up of any location since the Vietnam War era. And in 1986, Diego Garcia became fully operational with the completion of a $500-million construction program.
Its strategic location and full range of facilities make the island the last link in the long logistics chain, which supports a vital U.S. and British naval presence in the Indian Ocean and North Arabian Sea.
The island is 436 miles south of the equator. The annual mean temperature is 83 degrees with lows in the 70s and highs in the 90s. Rainfall averages 104 inches per year with the heaviest rains occurring from December through February. Humidity averages 80 percent year round. Though temperatures and humidity are both high, tropical breezes usually help keep the climate pleasant.
Diego Garcia is a living coral atoll; the coral reefs and island are made up of trillions of living organisms. Once an ancient volcano, all that is left is the atoll surrounding a central lagoon. Thanks to its tropical location and heavy rainfall, the island is heavily vegetated with coconut palm and ironwood trees.
The island stretches 15 miles, north to south, and about 35 miles from tip to tip of its horseshoe shape. The interior lagoon is 13 miles in length and 6.5 miles at its widest point. The island has an area of approximately 10.5 square miles with an average natural elevation of four feet above sea level. Lagoon depths vary from 60 to 100 feet with coral heads in all areas. Shallow reefs surround the island on the ocean side and are scattered inside the lagoon.
Wildlife on the island consists mainly of coconut, land and warrior crabs; coconut rats; small lizards and geckos; a variety of tropical birds; and feral donkeys.
The British make every effort to maintain the ecological integrity of Diego Garcia. As a result, all life forms--other than swimming fish--are protected by British law. Violators may be taken before the British court and can be heavily fined.