A Life in a Year – 1st September, The Cod Wars with Iceland

In 1958 Britain went to war again – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.


Eventually Britain and Iceland came to a settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between the two countries in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Icelandic Minister Bjarni Benediktsson hailed the agreement as “Iceland’s biggest political victory.”  And it wasn’t the end of Cod Wars either because there was a second in 1972 and a third in 1975 when on both occasions Iceland further extended their territorial fishing waters and continuing to protect these is what keeps Iceland from joining the European Union even today.

Interestingly, and perhaps a little surprisingly, Iceland is now one of the most prosperous countries in the World and according to the 2008 United Nations index on human development overtook Norway as the World’s most desirable country in which to live.  Following the Iceland economic crisis in 2009 it slipped back to third place with Norway back to top spot and Australia second and Canada and Ireland making up the rest of the top five. The place not to be is the sub-Saharan African states, which are firmly placed at the bottom of the league.

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