Iceland on the scene
When I was about 11, I devoured Tom Clancey’s Red Storm Rising. As I had previously red Sir John Hackett’s August 1984 , I was familiar with what to expect. If you haven’t read RSR, a good bit of it takes place in the NATO battleground country of Iceland, the only alliance member who had no armed forces and since then, I have had at least a passing interest in that nation’s defense. You see the Danes were responsible for the island defense up until WWII when the Allies occupied it and, by 1949, that legacy occupation became a NATO operation until the U.S. pulled out of Keflavik in 2006.
However, just because Iceland doesn’t officially have a military, doesn’t mean they don’t have rough viking-type guys out running about in uniform for the greater good.
Last night a 239-foot long 40 year old livestock carrier by the name of Ezadeen, sailing under a flag of convenience (Sierra Leone) lost power off the South East Coast of Italy while her crew beat feet. However, instead of cattle, the Ezadeen was packed with over 400 illegal migrants, mainly Syrian refugees, hoping to get to Europe by any means necessary.
The rescuer? The Icelandic Coast Guard ( Landhelgisgæsla Íslands) gunboat Tyr, who, in conjunction with the Italian Coast Guard, lowered a crew by helicopter to help get the ship under control and then took it under tow to the nearest port where immigrations and customs officials were waiting.
The Icelanders weren’t just passing through the Med on an extra long patrol, they, since December, have been part of an expeditionary force of EU member nations under the aegis of that organizations Frontex Border Security Agency called Operation Triton to put up a picket fence 30 miles southeast of Italy’s furthest coast consisting of two fixed wing surveillance aircraft, three patrol vessels, as well as seven teams of guest officers for debriefing/intelligence gathering and screening/identification purposes. The task: to stop illegal immigration by human traffickers from North Africa (the failed nation of Libya) and the Middle East (Syrian refugees).
The Icelanders have rescued four ships in the past month and have done yeoman service.
The 200-member coast guard, active since even before the island’s independence from Denmark in 1944, has long been the country’s sole military force. Equipped with just three offshore patrol vessels, one DHC-8 patrol aircraft, and a few helicopters, the ICG has consistently punched out of its weight class.During the Cold War, their ships constantly pulled up Soviet hydrophones and listening gear while trailing large Warsaw Pact ‘trawlers’ that conveniently passed very near NATO shore bases.
Speaking of trawlers…
In the 1960s and 70s, the plucky Icelanders fought the British Navy, then arguably the third largest in the world, to a virtual standstill over cod (The Cod Wars!)
You see, foreign trawlers were in Iceland’s waters scooping up all the fish which led to the Coast Guard deploying net cutting devices which severed the trawls of some 82 invasive vessels– most of them British, who sent in warships to stop the Icelandic gunboats.
Armed with 1898-era Hotckiss 57mm popguns using fifty year old ammunition, the Icelanders instead chose to ram the Royal Navy frigates sent to protect British cod fishermen in disputed waters.
In the end the Brits withdrew, leaving the ICG as the dominant cod champions in the EEZ around the island.
In non-fish related combat, since the 1950s the organization has provided peacekeepers that have roamed from Palestine to the Congo under the UN while contributing small contingents of land-based specialists to Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the Global War on Terrorism and ISAF missions while others went to Kosovo under NATO.
They are masters of fooling with old sea mines, having to defuse thousands of them that have bobbed up in Icelandic waters since WWII.
As for the Tyr herself, she is a rather interesting little ship. Named after the one-armed Norse god of war and law(he lost his other hand to the giant wolf Fenrir), she was built in 1975 by Aarhus Flydedok, Denmark, is 1200-tons in displacement and 233-feet overall.
Even though a little ship, she has a helicopter deck and hangar, and both surface search radar and hull-mounted sonar. Armament: a 40mm/70 Bofors dating back to WWII, and small arms.
She is coming up on her 40th birthday with no plans to replace her or her even older sistership Aegir as of yet. As it was, during the Cod Wars she tangled with several British ships, even surviving a ramming by the Rothesay-class frigate HMS Falmouth (twice) while she herself was credited with tagging HMS Scyilla and HMS Juno among others. All of these she has long outlived.
And it seems at least, that 400 Syrian refugees are grateful for Tyr‘s firm hand this week.