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1976: Iceland and Britain clash at sea
A British naval frigate has been involved in another collision with an Icelandic gunboat in the Atlantic.

HMS Andromeda was dented when the gunboat, Thor, sailed close to the bow. Thor sustained a hole in its hull.

British defence officials said the collision represented a "deliberate attack" on the British warship without regard for life.

The Icelandic coastguard insisted Andromea had rammed Thor by overtaking the boat and then swiftly changing course.

Exclusion zone

Less than ten days ago Andromeda was involved in a similar incident with another Icelandic boat, Tyr. Icelandic officials claimed the Andromeda had deliberately rammed the Tyr - a claim rejected by the Ministry of Defence.

Since November last year, Iceland has attempted to enforce a 200 mile exclusion zone for foreign trawlers instead of the 50 miles established in the expired 1973 fishing rights agreement.

What we're doing is protecting fishery trawlers on the high seas
Captain John Cox
It is unclear whether today's incident was deliberate but spokesman for UK naval operations Captain John Cox said that it was certainly dangerous.

Captain Cox explained that warships are especially vulnerable to collision damage because they were not armoured along the sides.

The Icelandic Prime Minister, Hr Hallgrimmson, warned of possible confrontation in his New Year message at the end of 1975: "Once (Britain) put an end to their military presence in Icelandic jurisdiction and their trawlers stop illegal fishing, a solution can be found - but the British government will have to show its willingness towards this end."

Captain Cox was equally clear about the purpose of the British Navy's presence: "What we're doing is protecting fishery trawlers on the high seas in international waters and we are told specifically: no aggressive manoeuvres, no provocation at all."

The Icelandic Government says it is applying the 200 mile fishery limit agreed by over 100 nations, including Britain, at the 1974 Law of the Sea Conference.

It is concerned that overfishing could lead to a dramatic decline in the number of cod. Some marine biologists have even suggested there could be no cod left by 1980.

But Britain says Iceland has no right to unilaterally enforce a 200-mile limit until it becomes law. It has deployed its navy to protect the 40 trawlers fishing in the contested waters.

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UK defence tug at sea
UK defence tug protecting British fishing trawlers

In Context
This was the third of the 'Cod Wars' that took place between Britain and Iceland over their fishing rights in the Atlantic. The first was in 1958 and the second ran from 1972 to 1973.

Britain deployed a total of 22 frigates against 16 Icelandic vessels. There were numerous skirmishes and Iceland threatened to close the Nato base at Keflavik. The US offered to mediate but it was Nato that negotiated an agreement on 6th June 1976.

Under this treaty Britain was limited to using 24 trawlers within a 200 mile zone at any one time for an annual catch of up to 50,000 tonnes.

Iceland claimed that it was economically dependent on fishing, but fish from the Atlantic were worth 23.1m to the UK and the new restrictions caused 8000 jobs to be lost.

The number of cod has continued to decline and there have been calls for a total ban on cod fishing in the North Sea.

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