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1973: Royal Navy moves to protect trawlers
Britain has sent in Royal Navy ships to protect trawlers in the disputed Icelandic 50-mile zone as the so-called "cod war" escalates.

Three frigates - the Cleopatra, the Plymouth and the Lincoln - are sailing alongside the British trawlers now fishing in box formation.

The skippers had said they would not return to the seas without naval protection against Icelandic gunboats. They have been cruising the area since Iceland extended its fishing from three to 50 miles eight months ago.

The Navy is not going to stand idly by and see trawlers chivvied as they have been chivvied recently. The Navy has a job to do.
Joseph Godber, Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries
He said the frigates, armed with light guns and rocket missiles, would take "appropriate action" if necessary.

The decision to send in the Navy was made three days ago by the Cabinet Defence and Overseas Policy Committee with the Prime Minister Edward Heath present.

The trawler owners and the skippers had disagreed over whether or not to accept naval assistance.

The trawler owners feared that the Royal Navy's presence would restrict fishing as happened some 13 years ago during the first cod war.

But they have since agreed to let the frigates accompany the fishing boats because three tugs - the Statesman, the Irishman and the Lloydsman - would also be present and allow the trawlers to fish more freely.

The Icelandic ambassador in London, Niel Siguurdsson, said last night he was "surprised and disappointed" by the move.

Last week, the British ambassador, Sir Ian MacKenzie, failed to get assurances from Iceland's prime minister, Olafur Johannesson, that its ships would stop threatening British trawlers.

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HMS Cleopatra
HMS Cleopatra, one of the three frigates on patrol is armed with light guns and rocket missiles

In Context
Iceland has extended its territorial waters three times since the end of the 1950s to protect its fishermen and their main catch of Atlantic cod from foreign fleets.

On each occasion, Icelandic patrol boats trying to enforce the new limits clashed on the high seas with British trawlers and naval vessels.

This second cod war ended after the intervention of NATO with a two-year agreement limiting British trawlers to certain areas within the 50-mile limit.

Britain also agreed that its vessels would not catch more than 130,000 tonnes of fish a year.

This agreement expired on 13 November 1975, when Iceland again extended its fishing to 200 miles (332km) and the third cod war began.

Nato again helped negotiated an end to the dispute on 6 June 1976.

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.

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