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Summery Corfu Channel Case; United Kingdom Vs Albania 1946:

Facts/ background:

On May 15th. 1946 the British warships passed through the Channel without the approval of the Albanian government and were shot at. Later, on October 22nd, 1946, a squadron of British warships (two cruisers and two destroyers), left the port of Corfu and proceeded northward through a channel previously swept for mines in the North Corfu Strait.

Both destroyers were struck by mine and were heavily damaged. This incident resulted also in many deaths. The two ships were mined in Albanian territorial waters in a previously swept and check-swept channel.

After the explosions of October 22nd, the United Kingdom Government sent a note to the Albanian Government, in which it announced its intention to sweep the Corfu Channel shortly. The Albanian reply, which was received in London on October 31st, stated that the Albanian Government would not give its consent to this unless the operation in question took place outside Albanian territorial waters. Meanwhile, at the United Kingdom Government's request, the International Central Mine Clearance Board decided, in a resolution of November 1st, 1946, that there should be a further sweep of the Channel, subject to Albania's consent. The United Kingdom Government having informed the Albanian Government, in a communication of November 10th, that the proposed sweep would take place on November 12th, the Albanian Government replied on the 11th, protesting against this 'unilateral decision of His Majesty's Government'. It said it did not consider it inconvenient that the British fleet should undertake the sweeping of the channel of navigation, but added that, before sweeping was carried out, it considered it indispensable to decide what area of the sea should be deemed to constitute this channel, and proposed the establishment of a Mixed Commission for the purpose.

It ended by saying that any sweeping undertaken without the consent of the Albanian Government outside the channel thus constituted, i.e., inside Albanian territorial waters where foreign warships have no reason to sail, could only be considered as a deliberate violation of Albanian territory and sovereignty. After this exchange of notes, 'Operation Retail' took place on November 12th and 13th.

One fact of particular importance is that the North Corfu Channel constitutes a frontier between Albania and Greece, that a part of it is wholly within the territorial waters of these States, and that the Strait is of special importance to Greece by reason of the traffic to and from the port of Corfu.

Issues:

The British government claimed the minefield which caused the explosions was laid between May 15th, 1946, and October 22nd, 1946, by or with the approval or knowledge of the Albanian Government. Thus Albania was responsible for the explosions and loss of life and had to compensate the UK government.

In addition to the passage of the United Kingdom warships on October 22nd, 1946, the second question in the Special Agreement relates to the acts of the Royal Navy in Albanian waters on November 12th and 13th, 1946 when the British government carried out a minesweeping operation called 'Operation Retail' without the consent of Albania.

UK held the opinion the passage on October 22nd, 1946 was innocent and that according to rules of international law it had the right to innocent passage through the North Corfu Channel as it is considered part of international highways and does not need a previous approval of the territorial state.

The Albanian Government does not dispute that the North Corfu Channel is a strait in the geographical sense; but it denies that this Channel belongs to the class of international highways through which a right of passage exists, on the grounds that it is only of secondary importance and not even a necessary route between two parts of the high seas, and that it is used almost exclusively for local...
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