You are on page 1of 3

005b_____________________ICJ Case

Two ICJ case studies have been bulleted on the syllabus, so I guess wed better
know them well. The first, the Corfu Channel Incident [its a lot less dramatic than
it sounds] is a curious choice, while the second is a lot more interesting. I know
which one Id choose if I was setting an SBQ, but believe me, these people can do
their best to confound.
Please note that it is not enough to now only these two. Have the broad framework
ready, and also know other examples of where the ICJ did or did not resolve
international disputes effectively.

Corfu Channel Incident, 1946 [Wiki]

The Corfu Channel Incident refers to three separate events involving Royal Navy
ships in the Channel of Corfu which took place in 1946, and it is considered an
early episode of the Cold War. During the first incident, Royal Navy ships came
under fire from Albanian fortifications.[2] The second incident involved Royal Navy
ships striking mines and the third incident occurred when the Royal Navy
conducted mine-clearing operations in the Corfu Channel, but in Albanian
territorial waters,[1] and Albania complained about them to the United Nations.[2]
This series of incidents led to the Corfu Channel Case, where the United Kingdom
brought a case against the People's Republic of Albania to the International Court
of Justice.[5] The Court rendered a decision under which Albania was to pay
844,00 to Great Britain, the equivalent of 20 Million in 2006. [4] Because of the
incidents, Britain, in 1946, broke off talks with Albania aimed at establishing
diplomatic relations between the two countries. Diplomatic relations were only
restored in 1991.[6]
The incidents started on 15 May 1946 when two Royal Navy ships, HMS Orion and
HMS Superb, crossed the Corfu Channel following a prior inspection and clearing
of the strait.[2][7] While crossing they came under fire from fortifications situated on
the Albanian coast.[2][3] Although the ships suffered no material damage and no
human casualties occurred, Britain issued a formal demand for "an immediate and
public apology from the Albanian Government".[2] Such apology was not
forthcoming however and the Albanian Government claimed that the British ships
trespassed in Albanian waters.[2][8]
The second incident was by far the most serious.[2] On 22 October 1946, a Royal
Navy flotilla composed of the cruisers HMS Mauritius and HMS Leander, and the
destroyers HMS Saumarez and HMS Volage, was ordered northward through the
Corfu Channel with the express orders to test the Albanian reaction to their right
of innocent passage.[1][7][10] The crews were instructed to respond if attacked.[1]
They were passing close to the Albanian coast in what they considered to be a
mine-free zone with Mauritius leading and Saumarez following closely. Leander
was about one and two thirds of a nautical mile or three kilometres away
accompanied by Volage.[1] Near the bay of Saranda, just prior to 3 p.m., the
destroyer Saumarez struck a mine and was heavily damaged.[1][2][11] The destroyer
Volage was ordered to tow the Saumarez south to Corfu harbour.[1][2]
At approximately 4:16 p.m., while towing, Volage struck a mine also and sustained
heavy damage.[1][2] Both ships' bows were completely blown off and adverse
weather conditions in the straits made the towing effort exceedingly difficult with
both ships sailing stern-first,[3][12] but after twelve hours of effort both ships
managed to reach the Corfu harbour.[1] Forty-four men died and forty-two were
injured in the incident.[1][2]
Between thirty-two to forty-three of the dead are estimated to have belonged to the
crew of Saumarez.[3][9][11] The Saumarez was damaged beyond repair while the
damage to Volage was repairable.[2][7][13] The Albanian coastal batteries did not fire
during this incident and an Albanian Navy vessel approached the scene flying the
Albanian flag and a white flag.[2] Since Albania had no appropriate vessels at that
time, the mines were probably laid by Yugoslavian minelayers Mljet and Meljine on
Albanian request, around 20 October 1946.[14][15]
The British Minister of Pensions at the time of the incident awarded full military
pensions to the disabled and to the widows of the dead. [16]
The third and final incident occurred on 12 November 13 November 1946 when
the Royal Navy carried out an additional mine sweeping operation in the Corfu
channel, codenamed Operation Retail.[2][7][17] Under the direction of the Allied
Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean the mine-sweeping operation took place
within Albanian territorial waters, but without authorisation by the Albanian
government, and had the additional purpose of using the mines as corpora delicti
to prove that the British were acting in self defence by attempting to clear hazards
to navigation.[1][17]
There was also present a French naval officer who, at the invitation of the
Mediterranean Zone Board, acted as an observer. An aircraft carrier, cruisers and
other warships provided cover. Twenty-two contact mines were discovered and cut
from their undersea moorings. The placement of the mines was such that the
minefield was deemed to have been deliberately designed and not simply a random
aggregation of isolated mines. Two of the cut mines were sent to Malta for further
examination. It was then discovered that the mines were of German origin but they
were free of rust and marine growth. They were also freshly painted and their
mooring cables were recently lubricated. It was concluded that the minefield was
laid shortly before the incident involving Saumarez and Volage. Mine fragment
analysis from the Volage confirmed the mines were similar to the ones at Malta.[1]
Following the third incident, Albania, under prime minister Enver Hoxha,
dispatched a telegram to the United Nations complaining about an incursion by the
Royal Navy into Albanian coastal waters
On 9 December 1946 Britain sent a note to the Albanian government accusing
Albania of laying the mines and demanding reparations for the May and October
incidents. Britain demanded a reply within fourteen days, mentioning that in the
event of a negative Albanian response the matter would be referred to the UN
Security Council. The Albanian government in its reply, which was received by the
British on 21 December 1946, denied the British allegations and went on to
elaborate that the whole affair was the work of countries which did not wish to see
a normalisation of relations between Albania and Britain and in fact vessels from
Greece and other countries had trespassed recently in the area where the mines
were discovered.[1]
The British government did not find this response satisfactory and it eventually
brought its case to the International Court of Justice, having failed in its attempt to
involve the Security Council in the matter.[1][2][19] It was the first case adjudicated by
the ICJ,[20] and in December 1949 the court awarded the British the sum of
843,947 or US $2,009,437 having found that,[21] irrespectively of who laid the
mines, the Albanians ought to have observed any such action, [7] since the minefield
was so close to their coast, and thus they failed to inform the British of the danger.
The Court also rejected the self-defence argument advanced by the
United Kingdom and found that the mine-clearing operations undertaken by the
British during Operation Retail, in the absence of prior Albanian consent, were
The Albanian Government refused to pay the reparations ordered by the Court and
in retaliation the British held 1574 kilograms of gold belonging to Albania. [1][2][6][19]
The gold, looted by the Axis powers from Albania during World War II, was stored
in the vaults of the Bank of England and was awarded to the Albanians by the US-
UK-France tripartite commission in 1948 after it was retrieved by the Allies. [2]
With the end of the Cold War, the Peoples Socialist Republic of Albania ceased to
exist in 1991.[1] Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established
on 29 May 1991.[6] Soon after, on 8 May 1992, Britain and Albania announced that
they had come to an agreement over the Corfu Channel case, jointly announcing
that "Both sides expressed their regret at the Corfu Channel Incident of 22
October 1946".[1][6] Only in 1996 following lengthy negotiations was the gold finally
returned to Albania after it agreed to pay US $2,000,000 in delayed reparations.[1]

Enver Hoxha, in his memoirs about his first meeting with Joseph Stalin, wrote that
the whole affair was concocted by the British as an excuse for military intervention
at the town of Saranda.[24] Hoxha also described the events as "an unprecedented
provocation toward our country".[4]
On 2 November 2009 a team of US and Albanian researchers announced that they
found what they believe to be the bow segments of HMS Volage in the Corfu
Channel under approximately fifty meters of water.[25] Dishes, shoes and
ammunition found in the area surrounding the wreckage are further evidence that
fits, according to the researchers.