Sint Maarten is an island country in the Caribbean. It is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. With a population of 33,609 on an area of 13 square miles (34 square kilometers), it encompasses the southern 40% of the divided island of Saint Martin, while the northern 60% of the island constitutes the French overseas collectivity of Saint-Martin. Sint Maarten’s capital is Philipsburg. Before October 10, 2010, Sint Maarten was known as the Island Territory of Sint Maarten (Eilandgebied Sint Maarten in Dutch), and was one of five island territories (eilandgebieden) that constituted the Netherlands Antilles. Collectively, the two territories are known as “St-Martin / St Maarten”. It is the world’s smallest inhabited island divided between two nations. The division dates to 1648.
The island of Saint Martin has a land area of 34 square miles (87 km²), 20 square miles (53 km²) of which is under the sovereignty of France, and 13 square miles (34 km²) under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This is the only land border shared by France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands anywhere on Earth, the country Sint Maarten being the sharing part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The main cities are Philipsburg (Dutch side) and Marigot (French side). The Dutch side is more heavily populated. The largest settlement on the entire island is Lower Prince’s Quarter, on the Dutch side.
The highest hilltop is the Pic Paradis at 1,391 feet (424 meters) in the center of a hill chain on the French side. Both sides are hilly with large mountain peaks. This forms a valley where many houses are located. There are no rivers on the island, but many dry gullies. Hiking trails give access to the dry forest covering tops and slopes. The island is located south of Anguilla, separated from the British territory by the Anguilla Channel. Saint Martin is northwest of Saint Barthélemy, separated from the French territory by the Saint-Barthélemy Channel. Approximately 190 miles (300 km) east of Puerto Rico, it is one of the Renaissance Islands.
On September 6 and 7, 2017, the island was hit by Category 5 Hurricane Irma, which caused widespread and significant damage to buildings and infrastructure. A total of two deaths had been reported as of September 8. By then, “many inhabitants [were] devoid of basic necessities” and looting was a serious problem.
In 1493, during Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the West Indies, upon first sighting the island he named it Isla de San Martín after Saint Martin of Tours because it was November 11, St. Martin’s Day. However, though he claimed it as a Spanish territory, Columbus never landed there, and Spain made the settlement of the island a low priority.
The French and Dutch, on the other hand, both coveted the island. While the French wanted to colonize the islands between Trinidad and Bermuda, the Dutch found San Martín a convenient halfway point between their colonies in New Amsterdam (present day New York) and Brazil. With few people inhabiting the island, the Dutch easily founded a settlement there in 1631, erecting Fort Amsterdam as protection from invaders. Jan Claeszen Van Campen became its first governor, and soon thereafter the Dutch West India Company began its salt mining operations. French and British settlements sprang up on the island as well. Taking note of these successful colonies and wanting to maintain their control of the salt trade, the Spanish now found St. Martin much more appealing. The Eighty Years’ War which had been raging between Spain and the Netherlands provided further incentive to attack.
Spanish forces captured Saint Martin from the Dutch in 1633, seizing control and driving most or all of the colonists off the island. At Point Blanche, they built what is now Old Spanish Fort to secure the territory. Although the Dutch retaliated in several attempts to win back St. Martin, they failed. Fifteen years after the Spanish conquered the island, the Eighty Years’ War ended. Since they no longer needed a base in the Caribbean and St. Martin barely turned a profit, the Spanish lost their inclination to continue defending it. In 1648, they deserted the island.
With St. Martin free again, both the Dutch and the French jumped at the chance to re-establish their settlements. Dutch colonists came from St. Eustatius, while the French came from St. Kitts. After some initial conflict, both sides realized that neither would yield easily. Preferring to avoid an all-out war, they signed the Treaty of Concordia in 1648, which divided the island in two. During the treaty’s negotiation, the French had a fleet of naval ships off shore, which they used as a threat to bargain more land for themselves. In spite of the treaty, relations between the two sides were not always cordial. Between 1648 and 1816, conflicts changed the border sixteen times. The entire island came under effective French control from 1795 when Netherlands became a puppet state under the French Empire until 1815. In the end, the French came out ahead with 61% against 39% of the land area on the Dutch side.
With the new cultivation of cotton, tobacco, and sugar, the French and the Dutch imported a massive number of slaves to work on the plantations. The slave population quickly grew larger than that of the land owners. Subjected to cruel treatment, slaves staged rebellions, and their overwhelming numbers made it impossible to ignore their concerns. In 1848, the French abolished slavery in their colonies including the French side of St. Martin. Slaves on the Dutch side of the island protested and threatened to flee to the French side to seek asylum. The local Dutch authorities then freed the colonies’ slaves. While this decree was respected locally, it was not until 1863 when the Dutch abolished slavery in all of their island colonies that the slaves became legally free.
After the abolition of slavery, plantation culture declined and the island’s economy suffered. In 1939, St. Martin received a major boost when it was declared a duty-free port. In 1941, the island was shelled by a German U-boat during World War II. The Dutch side began focusing on tourism in the 1950s, with the French side following suit two decades later. Because of being split up into a Dutch and a French part, the tourist boom was heavier on Sint Maarten than on the surrounding islands. Its Princess Juliana International Airport became one of the busiest in the Eastern Caribbean. For much of this period, Sint Maarten was governed by business tycoon Claude Wathey of the Democratic Party.
The island’s demographics changed dramatically during this period as well. The island’s population increased from a mere 5,000 people to around 60,000 people in the mid-1990s. Immigration from the neighboring Lesser Antilles, Curaçao, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the United States, Europe, and Asia turned the native population into a minority.
Sint Maarten became an “island territory” of the Netherlands Antilles in 1983. Before that date, Sint Maarten was part of the island territory of the Windward Islands, together with Saba and Sint Eustatius. The status of an island territory entails considerable autonomy summed up in the Island Regulation of the Netherlands Antilles. The island territory of Sint Maarten was ruled by an island council, an executive council, and a Lieutenant Governor (Dutch: gezaghebber) appointed by the Dutch Crown.
On September 5, 1995, Hurricane Luis hammered the islands causing extensive damage 35 years to the day after Hurricane Donna.
In 1994, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and France signed the Franco-Dutch treaty on Saint Martin border controls, which allows for joint Franco-Dutch border controls on so-called “risk flights”. After some delay, the treaty was ratified in November 2006 in the Netherlands, and subsequently entered into force on 1 August 2007. Though the treaty is now in force, its provisions are not yet implemented as the working group specified in the treaty is not yet installed.
On October 10, 2010, Sint Maarten became a constituent country (Land Sint Maarten in Dutch) within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, making it a constitutional equal partner with Aruba, Curaçao, and the Netherlands proper. Sint Maarten has been assigned the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country codes of SXM and SX, and the .sx Internet ccTLD became available to register on November 15. 2012.
The combined population of the two territories has continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate, and as of (2013) around 75,000.
Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage on September 6 and 7, 2017. Princess Juliana Airport was extensively damaged but reopened on a partial basis in two days to allow incoming relief flights and for flights that would take evacuees to other islands. The Prime Minister of Sint Maarten had already asked the Dutch government for extended relief assistance which began to arrive on September 8. The government of the Netherlands was sending aid, as well as additional police and military, since looting was a serious problem.
A statement by the Prime Minister summarized the situation on September 8. “We’ve lost many, many homes. Schools have been destroyed. We foresee a loss of the tourist season because of the damage that was done to hotel properties, the negative publicity that one would have that it’s better to go somewhere else because it’s destroyed. So that will have a serious impact on our economy.” Reports on September 9 indicated that 70% of the infrastructure on the Dutch part had been destroyed.
Widespread looting had started and a state of emergency was announced; some 230 soldiers from the Netherlands were patrolling. Additional Dutch troops were expected.
The government issued a Tropical Storm Warning on September 8 since the Category 4 Hurricane Jose was approaching. Government reports on September 9 indicated that much of the population was living in shelters pending the arrival of Jose. Thankfully, this second hurricane did not have a significant impact on the island.
By September 10, some 1,200 Americans had been evacuated to Puerto Rico from Sint Maarten by military aircraft during a time of looting and violence. On that date, Royal Caribbean International said that the company was sending its Adventure of the Seas cruise ship to Saint-Martin and to St. Thomas to provide supplies and to offer evacuation services. The ship arrived on the island on September 10 with water, ice, garbage bags, clothing and canned food; she evacuated 320 people.
By September 11, King Willem-Alexander had already arrived in Curaçao and was scheduled to visit St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba. A survey by the Dutch Red Cross estimated that nearly a third of the buildings in Sint Maarten had been destroyed and that over 90 percent of structures on the island had been damaged.
The Washington Post reported that 95% of the structures on the French side and 75% of the structures on the Dutch side were damaged or destroyed. A total of 11 deaths had been reported as of September 8. France’s Minister of the Interior, Gérard Collomb, said that most of the schools were destroyed on the French half of the island. In addition to damage caused by high winds, there were reports of serious flood damage to businesses in the village of Marigot. Looting was also a serious problem.
The first post office was opened on Sint Maarten in the 1880’s. Initially, the stamps of Curacao and Dependencies were used. These were superseded by the issues of the Netherlands Antilles in 1948. Sint Maarten, as a self governing country, issued its first stamps in 2010 — the first issue commemorating the achievement of self government (Scott #1). Sint Maarten has, since then, issued a blend of stamps with themes of national interest and themes aimed at the thematic collectors market. My 2013 edition of the Scott catalogue only lists the first four issues, up to April 2011.
I only have two stamps from Sint Maarten; both arrived on a postcard that my sister mailed to me during a visit there aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Adventure of the Seas a little over one year ago. Today’s featured stamp is a 170-cent definitive released on November 11, 2011, in a mini-sheet of 12 (four each of three designs) and a souvenir sheet of 3 (one each of three designs). It pictures a beach and was designed by Studio Labranda and four-color offset printed by Oostenrijkse Staatsdrukkerij. Apparently, the issuing authority — Sint Maarten Stamps — numbers each of the definitives, printing this directly on the stamps (hence, the number above).
The postcard that my sister sent pictures Princess Juliana International Airport, which is well known for its very low final approach landings close to the popular Maho Beach at the end of the runway. It is named after Juliana of the Netherlands, who as crown princess landed here in 1944, the year after the airport opened. There is also an airport on the French side of the island, called Aéroport de Grand Case or L’Espérance Airport.
The airport was started as a military airstrip in 1942. It was converted to a civilian airport in 1943. In 1964, the airport was remodeled and relocated, with a new terminal building and control tower. The facilities were upgraded in 1985, 2001 and 2006.
Because the approach to Runway 10 is over water, pilots can become disoriented regarding their perceived altitude when operating under visual flight rules. Normal instrument checks, coupled with experience and situational awareness, mitigate potential problems. The departure from Runway 10 presents more “difficulties” than the approach, with a turn required to avoid mountains in the departure path.
Arriving aircraft approach the island on the last section of the final approach for Runway 10, following a 3° glide slope flying low over the famous Maho Beach. Pictures of low-flying aircraft were published in several news magazines worldwide in early 2000. The thrilling approaches and ease of access for shooting spectacular images, made the airport one of the world’s favorite places among planespotters. To meet changing international and local regulations, a 490-foot (150-meter) safety extension was required.
Despite the reputed difficulties in approach, there have been no records of major incidents at the airport, although ALM Flight 980 crashed 30 miles (48 km) from St. Croix on May 2, 1970, after several unsuccessful landing attempts at TNCM in bad weather.
In July 2016, KLM announced that from October it would serve the airport by direct flights from Amsterdam, instead of by a triangle route via Curaçao. Owing to this change, the airport lost its last regular Boeing 747 service, for KLM uses Airbus A330s for the changed schedule. The last arrival of a 747 at the airport took place on October 28, 2016, and Maho beach was almost completely covered with tourists and planespotters to witness the final landing and departure of the aircraft.
On September 6, 2017, the airport suffered significant damage when Hurricane Irma struck the island as a Category 5 hurricane. Video from a Dutch military helicopter showed the roof had been blown off the terminal, the jetways were damaged, and there was a significant amount of sand and flooding on the runway.