Corfu Channel Case
United Kingdom Vs Albania 1946
The Corfu Channel case was the first contentious case heard by the International Court of Justice. The Corfu Channel Case (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland-Albania) arose from series incidents that occurred on October 22nd, 1946, in the Corfu Strait:
First, 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. While crossing they came under fire from fortifications situated on the Albanian coast. 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". Such apology was not forthcoming, however, and the Albanian Government claimed that the British ships had trespassed in Albanian territorial waters.
The second incident was 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. The crews were instructed to respond if attacked. 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. Near the bay of Saranda, the destroyer Saumarez struck a mine and was heavily damaged. The destroyer Volage was ordered to tow the Saumarez south to Corfu harbour. While towing, Volage struck a mine also and sustained heavy damage. Forty-four men died and forty-two were injured in the incident. Since Albania had no appropriate vessels at that time, it was contemplated that the mines were probably laid by Yugoslavian minelayers Mljet and Meljine on Albanian request.
The third and final incident occurred on 13 November 1946 when the Royal Navy carried out an additional mine sweeping operation in the Corfu channel, code named Operation Retail. Under the direction of the Allied Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean the mine sweeping operation took place within Albanian territorial waters, but without authorization by the Albanian government.
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. When the mines were sent 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.
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. 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.
The United Kingdom first seized the Security Council of the United Nations which, by a Resolution of April 9th, 1947, recommended the two Governments to submit the dispute to the Court. The United Kingdom accordingly submitted an Application which, after an objection to its admissibility had been raised by Albania, was the subject of a Judgment, dated March 25th, 1948, in which the Court declared that...
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