The Corfu Channel Case, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland v. the People’s Republic of Albania
In May 1946 British warships passed through the Corfu Channel, in Albanian territorial waters, and were fired upon by Albanian coastal batteries. In October 1946, when two British warships passed through the Corfu Channel the ships struck mines and were damaged. In November 1946 the British Royal Navy swept for mines in the Corfu Channel in Albanian waters without Albanian consent. The Court held that Albania was responsible for the October 1946 explosion in Albanian waters, and for the damage and loss of human life that resulted. A decision regarding the amount of compensation was reserved for further consideration. International decisions recognized circumstantial evidence, and such evidence in this case indicated that the laying of the minefield which caused the explosions in October 1946 could not have been accomplished without the knowledge of the Albanian government. Albania had the responsibility to warn British warships of the danger the minefields exposed them to. This responsibility flowed from well-recognized principles of humanity which were even more exacting in time of peace than in war, from the principle of freedom of maritime communication, and from the obligation of all states not to knowingly allow their territory to be used contrary to the rights of other states. The Court decided that the United Kingdom did not violate the sovereignty of Albania when it passed through Albanian waters in October 1946. In times of peace, states had the right to send their warships through straits used for international navigation between two parts of the high seas without the previous authorization of a coastal state, provided the passage was innocent. However, when the Royal Navy swept for mines in November 1946, it violated the sovereignty of Albania. This operation did not have the consent of international mine clearance organisations, could not be justified as the exercise of a right of innocent passage, and international law did not allow a state to assemble a large number of warships in the territorial waters of another state and to carry out mine-sweeping in those waters. The United Kingdom’s arguments regarding intervention and self-protection were not persuasive.
UNEP Compendium of Summaries of Judicial Decisions in Environment-related Cases, 2005, Page 227