Canada and Denmark have argued for years over the sovereignty of Hans Island, a tiny rock located between Ellesmere Island and the northwest coast of Greenland.

A Vancouver geologist has received a prospecting permit for Hans Island, the isolated rock in the High Arctic that has sparked a territorial dispute between Canada and Denmark.

John Robins paid Indian and Northern Affairs Canada $50 for the rights to explore on the 1.3-square-kilometre island, which is located between Ellesmere Island and the northwest coast of Greenland, a semi-autonomous Danish territory.

Robins, of the Hunter Exploration Group, saidHans Island has generated more diplomatic than geological interest to date.

"We've done a lot of diamond exploration in the eastern Arctic in areas that experts previously identified as being unprospective, and now those are some of the hottest diamond explorations regions in the world," he said.

Permit may help Canada's claim, geologist says

Canada and Denmark agreed in 1973 on a border through the Nares Strait, halfway between Greenland and Ellesmere Island, but couldn't agree which country would have sovereignty over Hans Island.

'But part of asserting sovereignty is demonstrating that you own it and part of that is the mineral rights.' -Geologist John Robins

The dispute was rekindled in mid-2005 when Bill Graham, who was then defence minister, landed there and erected a Canadian flag. Denmark retaliated by callingin the Canadian ambassador to express its displeasure, then sending a warship to plant a Danish flag.

With the dispute still simmering as global warming increases the interest in Arctic waters, Robins said he thinks his application for a prospecting permit could help Canada's claim.

"Certainly there's an element of it that was done tongue-in-cheek, I guess," he said. "But part of asserting sovereignty is demonstrating that you own it and part of that is the mineral rights."

It could cost Robins up to $100,000 just to set foot on the uninhabited island. To keep his permit active, he must physically stake a claim within two years, although he may be able to extend it by paying more fees.

Request raised officials' eyebrows

Exploration on the island is also subject to regulations drawn up by the federal Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Any prospector will have to contact Foreign Affairs before going to Hans Island, or doing an aerial survey. Robins won't be able to build any structures there either.

"We did raise a few eyebrows but we did treat the application, just like we treat all the other applications we receive," said Anna North, a spokesperson with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada in Iqaluit.

"So we always contact any affected people in that particular area, so we did contact DFAIT [Foreign Affairs and International Trade] to do some consultation with them."

The situation is unique, she said.

Robins said he hopes to go to Hans Island in 2007.