Mauritius is an island nation off the coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about 560 miles east of Madagascar. In addition to the island of Mauritius, the Republic includes the islands of St. Brandon, Rodrigues and the Agalega Islands. The islands are of volcanic origin and generally sheltered by barriers of coral reefs forming natural lagoons. Known to the Arabs as early as the 10th century, but officially discovered in 1505 by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas, the island was occupied successively by the Dutch, the French and then was ceded to Great Britain. In 1968, Mauritius became independent. The Mauritian economy is based on four sectors: textiles, tourism, sugar and services.