Monday, 28 November 2016

Whiskey War (and also Schnapps!)

International law states that National Territorial waters extend up to 12 nautical miles (about 22 km.) from the coast of each country. In the case of narrow straits, such as the Strait of Gibraltar, cosidering both countries are so close to eachother, the limit of territorial waters is set at the midpoint between the two coasts. But that would happen with an island right in the middle point?

In Nares Strait, north of Greenland, the line between territorial waters of Canada and Denmark (for the moment, Greenland is still part of the Danish territory) is set about 10 miles from both sides. And right at that midpoint lies Hans Island, a piece of rock just a little bigger than 1 Km. from end to end. As you can see in the picture, following this blog's tradition, Hans Island is a very busy place. The nearest towns are Canadian Forces Base "Alert"  (the most northerly inhabited place on the planet) and the villages of Qaanaaq and Siorapaluk in Greenland, all both located more than 200 km far.

During the 30's, the League of Nations (predecessor of the UN) established that Hans Island belonged to the Danes. But Canadians alleged that, with the disappearance of this institution, the decision is invalidated and, for the moment, United Nations doesn't want to get their feet wet.

For more than 70 years, the two governments agreed a list of 127 geographic points that delimited the maritime boundary between both countries in the Nares Strait. But between points 122 and 123, they decided not to draw any lines there and, therefore, not define the border: it was Hans Island.

But don't think that this remains quiet. Tension between the two countries is very strong and we could even talk of one of the hottest geopolitical spots of the world: a sample of uncontrolled violence, is repeated every year of confrontation between Canadian Armed Forces and Danish "Forsvaret" (Army).

Every August, Canadian Army carries out some military exercises in the area of ​​Ellesmere Island. When Canadians pass near the Hans Island, they land there a few soldiers and remove the Danish flag, hoist the Canadian one, and next to the mast they leave a bottle of Canadian whiskey with a message: "Welcome to Canada". The Danish army remains not far behind the aggresive Canadians in the disproportionate use of force. And so, every spring, they send a detachment to Hans Island which is responsible of picking up the flag of Canada, place the Danish one and, after drinking the Canadian whiskey, they let a bottle of Schnapps with a letter that says: "you are in the territory of Denmark."

The maximum tension, however, occurs when vessels of Danish and Canadian Armies found eachother in the viccinity of Hans Island: in order to frighten the enemy, each boat .... hoists a flag of their own country!

No doubt that, the so called "Whiskey War" is limited to a merely exchange of liquor bottles because the object disputed, Hans Island, is only rock; bare, icy and inhospitable. Despite this, during the 80's, Canadian Company Dome Petroleum did some research on the island. There were, however, neither oil nor gaz. It is clear, therefore, that tiny Hans Island does not have any value at all; Well, yes, a bottle of whiskey and schnapps per year.

But disputes over Hans Island are not limited to Canada and Denmark. Some years ago, a  mysterious internet-based "Hans Island Liberation Front" appeared. The independence movement is led, with an iron fist, by two mysterious men ... Hans and Hans.

The last act of protest by Hans Island Liberation Front has been to propose that, seeing the strong expansionism of Russia in the Arctic, Santa Claus should move to live to Hans Island. "We try to avoid" said one of the two Hans (it's unclear if it was Hans or... Hans), "that poor Santa Claus gets forced by the Russians to present, as Christmas gifts, only vodka, LADA cars spare parts and back issues of Pravda newspaper!"

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