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19 January  
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1973: Super tug to defend fishing fleet
A super tug has been sent to protect British trawlers from Icelandic patrol boats as the dispute over cod fishing rights intensifies.

The Statesman, the last ocean-going tug, will not be armed but has orders to defend the British fishermen against tactics such as wire cutting.

The trawlermen have been threatening to leave Icelandic waters unless the Navy is brought in. But the Ministry of Defence has ruled out naval intervention at this stage saying it would only escalate the conflict.

This is the second time Iceland and Britain have clashed over fishing rights.

We have armed frigates, of course, close at hand
Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Joseph Godber
The first "cod war" took place in 1958 when Iceland extended its fishing limits from four miles to 12 miles off its coastline. Now, Iceland has extended its limits to 50 miles.

Iceland claims it depends on its fishing industry more than any other country in the world and that fish stocks in its waters are declining.

Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Joseph Godber, said: "We have armed frigates, of course, close at hand which we could send in but we don't wish to escalate this struggle.

"We think it is deplorable that the Icelanders are acting as they are, but we are sending this tug in as an unarmed vessel to give practical help to the trawlers and I hope that the skippers will find it of real help."

He refused to be drawn on when the Navy might be sent in, saying the frigates would be sent if "the need arises".

Ministers are meeting trawlers' representatives in Hull in three days' time to discuss next steps.

The captain of the tug, Charlie Noble, was asked what sort of tactics he would use to defend the British fishermen: "The only thing I can do is sort of circle the trawlers and try and warn off anybody who comes too close. That's all I can do.

He says the crew have been told they will be away from their families for about a month.

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


How a fishing row provoked anger on the high seas


In Context
Tensions continued to mount and the Navy was ordered to intervene in the dispute on 19 May.

A two-year deal was finally reached in Reykjavik on 13 November. Britain agreed to accept the new fishing limits - and conditions on the size of catches.

When the deal expired, Iceland tried to extend the fishing exclusion zone to 200 miles. It led to the outbreak of the third "cod war".

Peace was finally negotiated by Nato in 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.

It led to the loss of thousands of jobs in the British fishing industry. The Government announced compensation of up to £20,000 for each fisherman in July 2000.

Stories From 19 Jan


 
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