First Cod War

The First Cod War lasted from 1 September until 12 November 1958. It began as soon as a new Icelandic law that expanded the Icelandic fishery zone from 4 nautical miles (nmi) to 12 nmi (from 7.4 to 22.2 km), came into force at midnight of 1 September.

The British declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from their warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland. All in all, 20 British trawlers, 4 warships and a supply vessel were inside the newly declared zones. This deployment was expensive, in February 1960 Lord Carrington, the minister responsible of the Royal Navy, reported that his ships near Iceland had expended half a million pounds sterling worth of oil since the new year and that a total of 53 British warships had taken part in the operations. Against this Iceland could deploy seven Patrol vessels and a single PBY-6A Catalina flying boat.

Many incidents followed, such as the one on 4 September, when the V/s Ægir, an Icelandic patrol vessel, attempted to take a British trawler off the Vestfjords, but was thwarted when HMS Russell intervened, and the two vessels collided.
On 6 October, V/s María Júlía fired three shots at the trawler Kingston Emerald, forcing the trawler to escape to sea.

On 12 November, V/s Þór encountered the trawler Hackness which had not stowed its nets legally. Hackness did not stop until Þór had fired two blanks and one live shell off its bow. Once again, HMS Russell came to the rescue and its shipmaster ordered the Icelandic captain to leave the trawler alone as it was not within the 4 nmi (7.4 km) limit recognised by the British government. Þór’s captain, Eiríkur Kristófersson, said that he would not do so, and ordered his men to approach the trawler with the gun manned. In response, the Russell threatened to sink the Icelandic boat if it so much as fired one shot at the Hackness. More British ships then arrived and the Hackness escaped.

Eventually Britain and Iceland came to a settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between Iceland and Britain in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in the Hague. In total the First Cod War saw a total of 37 Royal Navy ships and 7,000 sailors protecting the fishing fleet from 6 Icelandic gunboats and their 100 coast guards.1

  1. Source: Wikipedia (2012) Cod Wars. Available from: [accessed 15 February 2012] []