Abstract The Loyalty Islands are a series of limestone karstified islands on the Australian Plate that are presently approaching the Vanuatu subduction zone (SW Pacific). They are deformed due to the combined effects of the bulging of the subducting lithosphere and the beginning collision between the Loyalty Ridge and the Vanuatu subduction zone. Therefore, they constitute a series of markers for early phases of ridge arc collision. Lineaments deduced from remote sensing images (aerial photos, SPOT3, SPOT4 and ENVISAT data), termed here as fractures, are analyzed by comparison with planar structures measured during field studies and termed as geological data. Fracture data indicate a stable main N110 direction with a large variance of nearly 15° in rms and two minor directions 45° apart which may constitute shear directions associated to the major one. A scale dependent analysis shows that fractures longer than 2000 m are close to the N110 direction and that their orientation shifts progressively to reach the N125 direction for L < 400 m. Geological data which are generally measured on 1–10 m long structures, reveal a main N135 direction in Lifou, which may be considered as the continuation of the trend of fracture data for decreasing lengths, and are dispersed in Maré. Since the shortest scale structures are being subjected to local disturbances, the longest ones are considered as indicative of the present stress state of the Loyalty Islands. They are modeled as tension cracks resulting from the elastic bulging of the Australian lithosphere before its subduction at the Vanuatu Trench and from a single force corresponding to the beginning collision. It is suggested that the stress field deduced from this model may help constraining general models of ridge arc collision and that the Vanuatu–New Caledonia region could be a valuable natural example to calibrate such models.