North Sentinel Island, India: The Last Island You’ll Ever Visit

This is part of the Unique Islands series. Follow this tag for more.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands make up an archipelago of 572 islands situated in the Bay of Bengal. Around 550 are under the Andaman Group and the remaining 22 islands under Nicobar. Only a total of 38 islands are inhabited by man, 28 in the Andaman islands and 10 in Nicobar. In a census from 2011, India estimated the population on the islands to be a little under 380,000.

Of the whole lot, the most interesting island is probably North Sentinel Island. It’s a small island (about 28 sq miles) and it lies 50 KM away from Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman Islands.

By Jesse Allen for NASA Earth Observatory 

North Sentinel Island is home to one of the most isolated tribes in the world, the Sentinelese (or Sentineli). They have lived on the island with minimal contact with the outside world, and anyone who dares to venture close are often treated with arrows and spears.

by Christian Caron for Survival International

Their hostility towards visitors have been recorded through history, beginning from the 1800s.

Treacherous Waters For Ships

Surrounding the island is a ring of coral reef that made access by sea very dangerous and difficult, if not impossible. The

In 1867, an Indian merchant ship, Nineveh was stranded on the coral reef off North Sentinel Island. After three days on the beach, the passengers and crew (a total of 106) were ambushed by the Sentinelese. They manage to fend off the attack and survive long enough for the Royal Navy to rescue them.

In 1970, a wreck was reportedly spotted (it was not mentioned by whom) on the coral reef on the southeast side of the island. The only other info about this wreck that I can find was that it’s been there for around 8 months. 1977, the cargo ship MV Rusley ran aground on the reef. Nothing much was known or mentioned about the cargo or the crew for both ships.

In 1981, the freighter Primrose got stranded on the reef during a storm. The choppy waters kept the 28-man crew on board while they await rescue. A few days later, they would find the same dangerous waters as the only thing keeping fifty Sentinelese men from successfully attacking the ship.

Their flimsy boats and rudimentary arrows kept any real danger out of range. The crew was eventually airlifted to safety (you can read about the rescue here as told by the helicopter pilot), leaving behind the Primrose and its cargo of chicken feed on the island and on Google Maps until today.

Beginning in 1991, five ship-breakers (the brothers Mohamed) would head to the island every few months with police escorts to salvage iron, for days at a time, from the wreck. While there, they would stay on their boat, never descending upon the shore.

The Sentinelese had also been scavenging metal from the wreck since it landed on their shores a decade prior. Hence, it was not surprising that the tribespeople shot at the ship-breaking crew when they first landed on the island. After their police escort fired warning shots into the air, the ship-breakers got to work in peace for the remainder of their task until 1997.

Up Next:

In the next part of this North Sentinel Island series, we’re going to look at how visitors to the island were treated (spoiler alert: not very well).