In Corfu Channel Case two british destroyers were damaged, including major
casualties, after they encountered mines in Albanian seas on October 22, 1946,
in the Corfu Strait. The Government of the People's Republic of Albania was sued
by the Government of the United Kingdom on May 22, 1947, in an effort to get a
ruling that the Albanian government was legally accountable for the incident's
effects and had to make amends or pay compensation. Albania, for its part, had
made a counter-claim against the United Kingdom for having breached Albanian
territorial waters. The explosions, as well as the damage and casualties
incurred by the United Kingdom as a result, were determined to be Albania's
fault by the Court on April 9, 1949.
The explosions, as well as the ensuing damage and casualties to the United
Kingdom, were determined to be Albania's fault by the court. The Court also
determined that the United Kingdom's later minesweeping had gone against
Albanian sovereignty. The Court instructed Albania to compensate the United
Kingdom on December 19, 1949.
Facts of the case
On 15 May 1946, the British warships went through the Corfu Strait. They were
shot at because they disregarded the Albanian government's request for
permission to do so. Subsequently, on October 22, 1946, a group of British
warships (two cruisers and two destroyers) left the port of Corfu and sailed
across a section of the North Corfu Strait that had previously been mined. A
mine struck both destroyers, severely damaging them. Several deaths were also
brought on by this catastrophe.
The two ships were mined in a waterway that had been swept and checked-swept in
Albanian territorial seas. After the explosions on 22nd October, the UK
Government issued a note to the Albanian Government. The memo announced the UK
government's impending sweep of the Corfu Channel. On October 31, London
received a response from the Albanian government. It claimed that unless the
operation in question took place outside of Albania's territorial waters, the
Albanian Government would not consent to it. On 1 November 1946, the
International Central Mine Clearing Board, at the UK government's request,
agreed that there should be another sweep of the English Channel. It should,
however, be contingent on Albania's approval.
The United Kingdom Government told the Albanian Government on November 10 that
the aforementioned sweep would occur on November 12.
According to a statement made by the Albanian government on November 11th, the
sweeping of the navigational channel by the British fleet poses no issue for
Albania. But, it thought it was important to define what portion of the sea
should be recognised to be this channel before beginning the sweeping. It
suggested the creation of a Mixed Commission to accomplish this. The Albanian
government made it plain that any sweeping carried out inside Albanian
territorial waters without its permission will be seen as a willful infringement
of Albanian sovereignty. The British government then carried out "Operation
Retail" on November 12 and 13.
- Whether Albania liable under international law for the mine explosions
that took place on October 22, 1946, in Albanian waters, along with the
resulting equipment damage and fatalities?
- Whether the United Kingdom infringed Albania's sovereignty by conducting
minesweeping operations without the government's permission?
- Whether the United Kingdom entitled for damages for the loss incurred?
The Court ruled that Albania was liable under international law for the damage
and casualties caused by the mine explosions in the Corfu Channel, which
happened in Albanian territorial waters. The court stated that because of the
British Royal Navy's actions in Albanian waters on October 22, 1946, the United
Kingdom did not violate Albania's sovereignty. Yet, when the British Royal Navy
initiated the operation for minesweeping in November 1946, it breached the
sovereignty of Albania.
This action was not authorised by international
organisations that clear minefields, it could not be justified as exercising a
right of innocent passage, and it is against international law for a state to
build a fleet in the territorial sea. International mine clearing organisations
did not approved this operation, it could not be justified as exercising a right
of innocent passage, and it is against international law for one state to deploy
a fleet in another state's territorial seas and conduct minesweeping operations
In a third judgement, given on 15 December 1949, the Court estimated the
amount of restitution owing to the United Kingdom and ordered Albania to pay
�844,000 as a compensation.
Analysis of the case
The investigation into the Corfu Channel case reveals definte principles,
including principle of state responsibility, circumstantial evidence and
innocent passage. The court considered the topographical circumstances of the
waterway connecting two regions of the high seas and was in fact frequently
being used for international navigation.
The North Corfu Channel should be
regarded as belonging to the class of international highways through which an
innocent transit does not require special approval and cannot be prevented by a
coastal State during a time of peace, the Court found after taking into account
these numerous factors. The UK government alleged that on October 22nd, 1946,
Albania neither disclosed the existence of the minefield nor alerted the British
warships of the danger they were approaching.
In conformity with the principle
of state responsibility, they should have done all required efforts quickly to
notify ships near the danger zone, more specifically those that were approaching
that zone. In reality, Albanian officials made no attempt to avert the
catastrophe. These serious omissions fall under Albania's international
However, Albania's duty to alert shipping of the presence of mines
in her waters depends on her learning of this fact in sufficient time prior to
October 22nd, and the responsibility of the Albanian coastal authorities to
alert the British ships depends on the amount of time that passed between the
time these ships were reported and the first explosion.
In light of this, the Court came to the conclusion that Albania is obligated to
compensate the United Kingdom for the damage and loss of life caused by the
explosions that occurred on October 22, 1946, in Albanian waters under the terms
of international law. Further, the court stated that the United Kingdom did not
violate the People's Republic of Albania's sovereignty as a result of the
British Navy's actions in Albanian waters on October 22, 1946. However, the
court unified rules that as a result of the British Navy's actions in Albanian
waters during the Operation of November 12 and 13, 1946. In this case the issue
of Albania's civil accountability for the Corfu Channel's mining and the
consequent damage two British naval ships sustained as a result of running into
The Court's opinion on whether the United Kingdom could prove Albania
knew about the mines' placement and was accountable for it stated that the fact
that a State exercises exclusive territorial control within its borders has an
impact on the types of evidence that can be used to prove that State knew about
Due to this exclusive control, the other State, who has suffered a
violation of international law, frequently finds it difficult to provide
concrete evidence of the events that gave rise to responsibility. In all legal
systems, indirect evidence is accepted, and international court rulings have
approved its use. When it is founded on a collection of facts that are related
to one another and logically lead to a single conclusion, it must be given more weightage.
- M.P Tandon (2004), International Law and Human Rights, Allahabad Law
- Harris David (2010), Cases and Materials on International Law, Sweet &
Maxwell, Great Britain