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Polisario (Western Sahara) and Algerian Naval Battles

Soviet cogitations: 316
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Feb 2010, 11:57
Resident Admiral
Post 24 Oct 2018, 10:49
During Cold War, the Morocco monarchy become a solid ally of the western world, despite initial post-colonial frictions with Spain and France and continuous border disputes with Spain for the enclaves.
After a bloody war, Algeria reclaimed independence from France and it quickly become a People’s Republic: under the leadership of Ahmed Ben Bella Algeria built strong relationship with Soviet Union and he was also backed by the local communist party. In 1965 however a coup d’état brought to power a more neutralist leadership (and saw repression of the communist party).
While Algeria remained officially a Socialist-oriented state, and building a capable surface navy with Soviet support, the moderate leadership of FLN brought to no known military confrontation with Morocco, Tunisia or else.

Input or news about past naval incidents or seizures of trawlers and merchants by Algerian Navy before 1991 are welcome!

Algeria (differently from the neighbor Libya) made little to support other socialist or communist groups, with one exception: the Polisario front (“Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro” often shortened just Polisario or Polisario front) fought since ‘70s against the Morocco invasion and occupation of Western Sahara. Polisario received weapon supports from Algeria, while obtained political and humanitarian support from Soviet Union and other socialist-oriented countries (including Cuba). The desert guerrilla with hit-and-run tactics was quite effective against the Moroccan Army, and the Moroccan state replied with a policy of forced relocation of Saharawi people and re-settling Moroccan people in Western Sahara. Another Moroccan tactic was building a series of fortifications and wall/trench lines to separate the occupied territory from the liberated territory. Refugee camps turned quickly small “cities” into the liberated territories and the Moroccan Air Force often bombed civilian targets causing horrific casualties among the population.
During the first phase of the conflict, also Mauritania (with French backing) fought against Polisario but signed a peace agreement officially retreating from confrontations and dropping territorial claims when the cost of the war turned heavy.

Polisario never declared itself communist, but socialist-oriented. It established and self-managed the “Free Territory” (still active), and this included a small strip of shore in the southern region and from such location Polisario established a quite active naval campaign in ‘80s. Details of Polisario naval campaign are rare: there are reasons to believe most of data are self-censored because currently Polisario do not pursue a policy of conflict and there is an established ceasefire with the Moroccan state. Currently there is no report of Moroccan Navy and Air Force actions against Polisario speedboats or shore installation: once again it appears due military censorship.

While the text is absent of such information, it is likely Moroccan ships or aircrafts engaged or attempted to engage Polisario naval raids, however apparently they failed in inflicting losses!

With the downfall of Soviet Union, Algeria give up the one-party Socialist rule just to enter a bloody civil war with Islamists lasted until 2002 (with the complete disinterest of the world) causing ten-thousands of deaths.
Many of these Islamists fought as “volunteers” during the terrorist campaigns in Afghanistan, funded by United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Currently (2018) the Algerian while being a multi-party state and with constant political victories of the left-wing FLN party still engage against desert counter-terrorism action against Al-Quaeda.

Meanwhile many nations (and the whole African Union) recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, led by Polisario in the liberated territories. The Republic retain a one-party socialist rule but promised eventual multi-party elections to gain sympathy from moderate left-wing parties in Europe (obviously this strategy so far only dragged the ceasefire with Morocco amid the general international indifference).


14 November 1977
Polisario fighters on an inflatable speedboat (mounting rockets on it) attacked and seized a Spanish trawler and captured 3 sailors. On 25 November, Polisario stated they would release the sailors.
(Possibly it was trawler La Palmas: 8 crewmembers released in 1978).

3 May 1978
Unidentified Moroccan freighter attacked 10 KIA and 7 prisoners.

25 August 1978
42 Moroccan sailors captured when their trawler was seized.

July 1980
30 South Korean sailors captured when their trawler was seized.

22 May 1980
Polisario fighters seized the Spanish trawler Garmorar and intentionally grounded it, causing the total loss of the vessel. The Polisario begun a policy of attacking trawlers deliberately.
Moroccan state indirectly allowed international trawlers to fish in Western Sahara waters even closer to the official limits permitted: the system included bribes directly paid and trawlers using the Moroccan flag.
The Polisario front stated every trawler caught fishing in claimed water was to be considered a legit target.

4 June 1980
Portuguese trawler Rio Vouga boarded and crew captured by Polisario. 15 crewmembers captured (later released) while ship sunk during the assault.

2 July 1980
Moroccan trawler Cap Juby-II attacked damaged and considered a total loss as consequence.

29 September 1980
Spanish trawlers Sarita and Costa de Terranova boarded off Mauritania by Polisario, crew captured.

21 September 1980
Portuguese trawler Enba seized and crew captured.

26 September 1981
Spanish trawler Porto Ceu attacked by Polisario, 1 fisherman killed and 3 wounded.

March 1985
Spanish trawler Carmen de las Nieves attacked, 1 sailor wounded.

14 June 1985
Spanish trawler Peixe do Mar attaced, 3 sailors wounded.

21 September 1985
Action off Cape Corbiero.
Spanish fishing vessel Junquito attacked, seized and scuttled by Polisario speedboats: Spanish naval patrol ship Tagomago attempted to relive her but attacked (two sailors killed, other sources say 1 KIA and 2 WIA) off Cape Corbiero. The Polisario successfully managed to detain the 7 crewmembers of Junquito and sink the trawler, while facing a proper military warship: so far this is the only known direct confrontation.

Photo of Tabarca, sister-ship of Tagomago

16 May 1986
Portuguese trawler Nejma-5 (sailing under Moroccan flag) attacked by Polisario fighters on speedboat with machine guns and rockets causing heavy damages. One crewmember killed and three wounded. Attack occurred off Dakhla.

9 June 1986
Greek bulk carrier Irene Pateras (23864 GRT) accidentally grounded close Cape Barbas, and then ship fired upon by Polisario fighters. Ship turned to be a total loss.

1 July 1986
Spanish trawler Andes attacked and damaged by Polisario fighters off the Moroccan coast. Damage suffered and one sailor killed.

4 September 1986
Spanish merchant Puente Canario (1936 GRT) attacked by Polisario fighters on speedboat with machine-gun fire and mortar. One sailor killed and one injured. Attack occurred four nautical miles west of Cape Corveiro.

14 September 1986
Spanish vessel attacked

29 November 1986
Spanish trawler Estrella del Mar attacked by Polisario fighters with machineguns. No casualties but a fire (extinguished with help of Spanish destroyer Almirante Ferrandiz.

20 January 1987
Trawler Eugenia attacked by Polisario fighters on inflatable boats off Cape Corbiero.
Three Moroccan soldiers onboard the ship killed.

21 January 1987
Polisario fighters attacked and sunk a private pleasure craft south of Dakhla. The two passengers (a Swedish and a Spaniard) not harmed.

23 January 1987
Panamanian bulk carrier Marittime King (50617 GRT) close Cape Cobiero with small arms fire and grenades. Damage inflicted and one crewmember wounded.
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