Icelandic Coast Guard

The Icelandic Coast Guard is the armed service responsible for Iceland's coastal defense and maritime search and rescue. Origins of the Icelandic Coast Guard (Landhelgisgæsla Íslands or Landhelgisgæslan) can be traced to 1859, when the corvette Ørnen started patrolling Icelandic waters. And in 1906 the first purposely built guard-ship Islands Falk came to Iceland. Iceland's own defense of its territorial waters began around 1920 and the Icelandic Coast Guard was formally founded on July 1, 1926. The first cannon was put on the trawler Þór in 1924 and on June 23, 1926 the first ship built for the Coast Guard, named Óðinn, arrived in Iceland. Three years later, on the 14 July, 1929 the coastal defence ship Ægir was added to the Coast Guard fleet.

The Icelandic Coast Guard played its largest role during the Cod Wars between 1972 and 1975, when the Coast Guard ships would cut the trawl wires of British and West German trawlers, while being rammed by the Royal Navy, in order to protect sealife from overfishing. Eventually, the British government agreed to recognize the expanded Fisheries zone, after the Icelandic government threatened to evict the U.S. forces (known as the Iceland Defense Force) from Keflavík Naval base and quit NATO.


The Icelandic Coast Guard's primary mission is the defending the sovereignty of Icelandic territorial waters, as well as keeping Icelandic law in the 200nm wide Economic zone. Other important missions are such as Search and Rescue of both seamen and others, as well as defusing mines, most of which were laid during the Second World War, and monitoring vessels in International waters outside of the Icelandic Economic zone in order to blacklist any vessel partaking in unregulated fishing (known as sjóræningjaveiðar (pirate fishing)) and thus bar them from receiving services from any member of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission to make unregulated fishing unprofitable. The Icelandic Coast Guard also occasionally operates within Greenlandic and Faeroese waters, following a bilateral agreement with Denmark regarding mutual aid in security, rescue and defence matters.

The Coast Guard accomplishes these tasks with the use of Offshore patrol vessels (OPV), Helicopters, Surveillance aircraft, Satellites and a network of land based surface scanning radars.

Recently the Coast Guard has started hosting exercises such as "Northern Challenge" which had military units from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom, among others, participating along with the Icelandic Coast Guard. The Coast Guard also takes part in Peacekeeping Operations on behalf of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit, although while usually using their own rank insignia, uniforms and weapons.

The Fleet

Currently the Icelandic Coast Guard fleet consists of three Offshore patrol vessels and one coastal hydrographic vessel. V/s Týr is the youngest and current flagship, built by Århus Flydedok a/s and launched in 1975. V/s Ægir is V/s Týr's sister-ship, built by Ålborg Værft a/s and launched in 1968. The oldest ship is V/s Óðinn, also built by Ålborg Værft a/s launched in 1960. V/s Óðinn was retired in late 2006 and will be replaced with a new ship Currently under construction in Talcahuano, Chile (Asmar shipyard). Each ship is equipped with two inflatable boats of various sizes and armed with a 40 mm Bofors L60 MK 3 cannon. Various kinds of small-arms as well as other man portable weapons are also carried onboard each of the ships. Týr is also equipped with a sonar system and they all have a flight deck and a hangar for a small helicopter. While the Coast Guard doesn't operate small enough helicopters to use the hangars currently, the flight decks often used by the helicopters of the Aeronautical Division on various missions. The coast guard has a 64 ton hydrographic boat as well, named M/s Baldur, it was built by Vélsmiðja Seyðisfjarðar in 1991. This vessel has no mounted weaponry but is often used for port security.

The Aeronautical Division

The Coast Guard's Aeronautical Division was founded on December 10, 1955 when a Consolidated PBY-6A Catalina flying boat is acquired. It was originally from the Iceland Defense Force but was damaged near Langanes in 1954. It was registered as TF-RAN and nicknamed Rán. The Catalina flew variously armed and unarmed, and in one instance the crew used a broomstick to force disobedient fishermen to sail directly to nearest port.

Currently the Icelandic Coast Guard owns only one helicopter but operates three. One Aerospatiale AS-332L1 Super Puma, registered as TF-LIF. As a response to the withdrawal of the Iceland Defense Force the Coast Guard rented a Aérospatiale Puma helicopter registered as TF-GNA, as well as another Dauphin AS 365N2 registered as TF-EIR.

The Coast Guard also operates a single Fokker F-27-200 Friendship, registered as TF-SYN, modified for maritime surveillance and reconnaissance. This plane is equipped with Bendix 1500B 360° radar, Immarsat satellite communications equipment and external fuel tanks. Its aft door is specially enlarged to facilitate dropping various goods and for parachuting.
On May 7th 2007 the Coast Guard contracted with FIELD AVIATION of Toronto, Canada to replace the obsolete Friendship (from 1977) with a new Bombardier Q series 300 (DASH 8) Maritime Surveillance Aircraft. The Q series aircraft will be extensively modified by FIELD to carry a modern Mission Management System and suite of surveillance sensors, air operable door and communications/navigation equipment. The new aircraft is expected to be delivered in July 2009.

Unlike the fleet, aircraft of the Icelandic Coast Guard have standard Icelandic civilian registers, as the Alþingi (parliament) has never agreed on laws for military or government aircraft. Over the time since the division was formed the regulations for standard civilian aircraft have become more restrictive. As a result the Coast Guard can no longer operate military aircraft like it did in the past. Nevertheless, current helicopters are outfitted with latest generation U.S. night vision equipment, reserved for U.S. armed forces and the armies of their allies. And thus the only civilian registered aircraft in the world, so equipped.

Ships and aircraft

All major vehicles of the Icelandic Coast Guard are currently named after beings from norse mythology.
Currently operated vessels:

Currently operated aircraft:

Currently operated rental aircraft:

Decommissioned vessels:

  • ICGV Óðinn (I)
  • ICGV Gautur, originally named Óðinn (II) but renamed when a new Óðinn (III) arrived, Gautur is one of Óðinn's pseudonyms.
  • ICGV Baldur (I), a fast patrol boat used for less than a year and returned because of bad characteristics in rough seas.
  • ICGV Baldur (II), an armed trawler.
  • ICGV Bragi, named after Bragi the god of poetry. A fast patrol boat used for less than a year and returned because of bad characteristics in rough seas.
  • ICGV Njörður, named after Njörðr the god of wind, fertile land along the seacoast, as well as seamanship, sailing and fishing. A fast patrol boat used for less than a year and returned because of bad characteristics in rough seas.
  • ICGV Týr (I), a whaler (Hvalur 9) borrowed during the second Cod War usually called Hval-Týr.
  • ICGV Þór (I)
  • ICGV Þór (II)
  • ICGV Ægir (I)

Other historical vessels that haven't adhered to the Norse mythology tradition:

  • ICGV Albert, patrol boat.
  • ICGV Árvakur, a lighthouse tender and patrol ship decommissioned in the 1970s.
  • ICGV María Júlía, patrol ship named after one of those who financed her construction.
  • ICGV Sæbjörg, a patrol and rescue ship.
  • ICGV Ver, an armed trawler

Decommissioned aircraft:

In addition the Coast Guard has rented or borrowed a number of civilian vessels and aircraft for shorter periods, which are not listed.


Small arms

Some of the firearms used by the Icelandic Coast Guard:

Naval artillery

Ranks of the Icelandic Coast Guard


Iceland No Equivalent >No Equivalent No Equivalent No Equivalent
No Equivalent
No Equivalent
Ranks Forstjóri Landhelgisgæslu Íslands Yfirmaður Gæsluframkvæmda Skipherra 1° Skipherra 2° Yfirstýrimaður 1. Stýrimaður 2. Stýrimaður Foringjabyrjandi


Iceland No Equivalent
No Equivalent
No Equivalent

Future prospects

Currently, bidding for a contract to build a new 90-meter-long vessel for the Coast Guard is underway, as a replacement for V/s Óðinn which is going to become a museum piece. The new ship is based on the design of the Norwegian Harstad class offshore patrol vessels, although old Coast Guard heroes such as Höskuldur Skarphéðinsson, who was captain of V/s Baldur during the last Cod War, have called for more powerful vessels similar to the Danish Thetis class ships. Incidentally the design for a new Coast Guard vessel from 1997 was armed with an Otobreda 76 mm gun like the Danish ships, while Harstad class ships are armed with the same 40 mm Bofors gun that is already in use with the Icelandic Coast Guard. On December 1 2006 the government approved the construction of this new ship which will be done by the Asmar shipbuilding company in Chile. The design for the ship was done by Rolls Royce in Norway and it will weight 4000 tons and thus considerably bigger than the Norwegian Harstad class, it will also be slightly faster. No information is available yet as for its armament. Although it has not been confirmed, it is believed likely that it will bear the name V/s Þór.

The Coast Guard is also searching for a new aircraft in cooperation with the Swedish Försvarets Materialverk, in order to replace the aging TF-SYN.

In an announcement on 24 March 2006, the Minister of justice and ecclesiastical affairs, Björn Bjarnason affirmed that, as a result of the withdrawal of the Iceland Defense Force, more helicopters will be rented for the Coast Guard, before September 2006, and that new ones will be bought later. Both France and Russia have declared their interest in selling helicopters and other defence materials.

On 23 May 2006, in an announcement, the Ministry of justice and ecclesiastical affairs declared their decision to rent two helicopters of the same type already operated by the Coast Guard. As the supply of Aerospatiale AS-332L1 Super Puma helicopters for renting is very limited it was decided to rent a single Aerospatiale SA-365N Dauphin II along with the Super Puma, increasing the size of the Coast Guard helicopter fleet by 100%. These helicopters will be rented for one year with an option to lengthen the renting period by six to twelve months. Since this is only to be a temporary measure, plans for future composition of the helicopter fleet were released in June 2006. The helicopers reported to be under consideration are the Eurocopter EC225, NH Industries NH90, Sikorsky S-92 and AgustaWestland EH101. Although buying the NH 90 helicopters would require the Coast Guard helicopters to be reclassified as military helicopters.

See also


External links

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