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Feb 15

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Third Cod War

The Third Cod War (November 1975 – June 1976) occurred between the United Kingdom and Iceland. Iceland had declared that the ocean up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from its coast fell under Icelandic authority. The British government did not recognise this large increase to the exclusion zone, and as a result, there came to be an issue with British fishermen and their ‘incursion’ into the disputed zone. The ‘war’, which was the most hard fought of the Cod Wars, saw British fishing trawlers have their nets cut by the Icelandic Coast Guard, and there were several incidents of ramming by Icelandic ships and British trawlers, frigates and tugboats.

One of the more serious incidents occurred on 11 December 1975. As reported by Iceland, V/s Þór, under the command of Helgi Hallvarðsson, was leaving port at Seyðisfjörður, where it had been minesweeping, when orders were received to investigate the presence of unidentified foreign vessels at the mouth of the fjord. These vessels were identified as three British ships, Lloydsman, an ocean going tug which was three times bigger than V/s Þór, Star Aquarius, an oil rig supply vessel of British Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and her sister ship Star Polaris. They were sheltering from a force nine gale within Iceland’s 12-nautical-mile (22 km) territorial waters.

In the Icelandic account, when ordered to leave Icelandic territorial waters by Þór´s commander the three tugboats initially complied. But around two nautical miles (4 km) from the coast the Star Aquarius allegedly veered to starboard and hit Þór´s port side as the Coast Guards attempted to overtake the Star Aquarius . Even as Þór increased speed, the Lloydsman again collided with its port side. The Þór had suffered considerable damage by these hits so when the Star Aquarius came about, a blank round was fired from Þór. This didn’t deter the Star Aquarius as it hit Þór a second time. Another shot was fired from Þór as a result, this time a live round that hit Star Aquarius’s bow. After that the tug-boats retreated. V/s Þór, which was close to sinking after the confrontation, sailed to Loðmundarfjörður for temporary repairs.

The British reports of the incident differ considerably, maintaining that Þór attempted to board one of the tug-boats, and as Þór broke away the Lloydsman surged forward to protect the Star Aquarius. Captain Albert MacKenzie of the Star Aquarius said the Þór approached from the stern and hit the support vessel before it veered off and fired a shot from a range of about 100 yards (91 m). Niels Sigurdsson, the Icelandic Ambassador in London, said Þór had been firing in self-defence after it had been rammed by British vessels. Iceland consulted the United Nations Security Council over the incident, which declined to intervene.

A second incident occurred in January 1976, when HMS Andromeda collided with the Þór. Þór sustained a hole in its hull, while the Andromeda’s hull was dented. The British Ministry of Defence said that the collision represented a “deliberate attack” on the British warship “without regard for life”. The Icelandic Coast Guard on the other hand insisted Andromeda had rammed Þór by “overtaking the boat and then swiftly changing course”.[citation needed]
Britain deployed a total of 22 frigates. In addition to the frigates, the British also deployed a total of seven supply ships, nine tug-boats, and three support ships to protect its fishing trawlers, although only six to nine of these vessels were on deployment at any one time. Iceland deployed four patrol vessels (V/s Óðinn, V/s Þór, V/s Týr, and V/s Ægir) and two armed trawlers (V/s Baldur and V/s Ver). The Icelandic government tried to acquire U.S. Asheville class gunboats, and when denied by the American government they tried to get Soviet Mirka class frigates. A more serious turn of events came when Iceland threatened closure of the NATO base at Keflavík, which would have severely impaired NATO’s ability to defend the Atlantic Ocean from the Soviet Union. As a result, the British government agreed to have its fishermen stay outside Iceland’s 200 nautical mile (370 km) exclusion zone without a specific agreement.

On the evening of 6 May 1976, after the outcome of the Third Cod War had already been decided, the V/s Týr was trying to cut the nets of the trawler Carlisle, when Captain Gerald Plumer of the HMS Falmouth ordered it rammed. The Falmouth at the speed of 22+ knots (41+ km/h) rammed the Týr, almost capsizing her. The Týr did not sink and managed to cut the nets of Carlisle, after which the Falmouth rammed it again. The Týr was heavily damaged and propelled by only a single screw and pursued by the tug-boat Statesman. In this dire situation, Captain Guðmundur Kjærnested gave orders to man the guns, in spite of the overwhelming superiority of firepower the Falmouth enjoyed, to deter any further rammings.1

  1. Source: Wikipedia (2012) Cod Wars. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cod_Wars [accessed 15 February 2012] []

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