Gulf of Sidra

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Satellite image of the Gulf of Sirte (2007)
Map of Libya

Gulf of Sidra is a body of water in the Mediterranean Sea on the northern coast of Libya; it is also known as Gulf of Sirte or the Great Sirte or Greater Syrtis (Latin Syrtis Major, Greek Σύρτις μεγάλη, contrasting with Syrtis Minor in Tunisia). The Gulf Of Sidra is part of the Libyan territorial waters. Syrtis is referred to in the New Testament of the Bible[1] where the Apostle Paul relates being sent in chains to Rome to stand trial before Caesar Nero. The crew of his ship was worried about being driven by a storm into Syrtis,[2] and took precautions to prevent it, resulting, eventually, in being shipwrecked on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea.


The Gulf of Sidra has been a major centre for tuna fishing in the Mediterranean for centuries. It gives its name to the city of Sirte situated on its western side.

The gulf measures 439 kilometres (273 mi) from the promontory of Boreum (now Ras Teyonas) on the East side to the promontory of Cephalae (Ras Kasr Hamet) on the West. The greatest extension of the gulf inland is 177 kilometres (110 mi) land inward[3] and occupies an area of 57,000 square kilometers.[4]

World War II

British cruisers Cleopatra (making smoke) and Euryalus (foreground) moving into action during the Second Battle of Sirte in 1942

Cold war period

After the coup d'état which brought Muammar Gaddafi to power in 1969, there have been a number of international incidents concerning territorial claims of the Gaddafi regime over the waters of the Gulf of Sidra.


In 1973, Gaddafi claimed much of the Gulf of Sidra to be within Libyan internal waters by drawing a straight line at 32 degrees, 30 minutes north between a point near Benghazi and the western headland of the gulf at Misrata with an exclusive 62 nautical miles (115 km) fishing zone.[5] Gaddafi declared it The Line of Death, the crossing of which would invite a military response. The US claimed its rights to conduct naval operations in international waters, the nowadays standard of 12-nautical-mile (22 km) territorial limit from a country's shore as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.[6] Gaddafi claimed it to be a territorial sea, not just a coastal area. In response the United States authorized Naval exercises in the Gulf of Sidra to conduct Freedom of Navigation (FON) operations.[7]

On 21 March 1973, Libyan fighter planes intercepted and fired on a U.S. Air Force C-130 conducting signals intelligence off the Libyan coast.[8] During the encounter, two Libyan Mirage fighters signaled the C-130 to follow them toward Libya and land, prompting the American plane to take evasive action. The C-130 received cannon fire from the Libyan fighters as it fled, but was able to escape by using cloud cover. According to US officials, the American plane was never closer than 120 kilometers from the Libyan coast.[9]


While operating over the Mediterranean Sea on 16 September 1980, a US Boeing RC-135U Combat Sent reconnaissance plane was fired on by a Libyan fighter.[10] The RC-135 was not hit and the United States took no retaliatory action after the incident.


In August 1981, during the United States Sixth Fleet Freedom of Navigation exercises, Libyan fighter planes were assembled from elsewhere in the country to fly patrols near the American ships. On 19 August, two Libyan Su-22 Fitter fighter-bombers were intercepted by two F-14 Tomcat fighters from the aircraft carrier Nimitz. During the engagement, one of the American planes was targeted by an air-to-air Atoll missile. After evading the missile, the Tomcats shot down both Libyan planes with Sidewinder missiles. According to some reports, the two Libyan pilots managed to eject and were rescued from the sea. According to other reports, the parachute of one of the Libyan pilots failed to open.


In the spring of 1986, the U.S. Navy deployed three aircraft carrier task force groups, USS America, USS Coral Sea and USS Saratoga from the Sixth Fleet with 225 aircraft and some 30 warships across the "Line of Death" and into the disputed Gulf of Sidra. After a day of armed conflict, the operation was terminated after an unknown number of human and materiel losses to the Libyan side and no losses to the American side.

Two weeks later on 5 April 1986, a bomb exploded in a West Berlin disco, La Belle, killing two American servicemen, a Turkish woman and wounding 200 others.[10] The United States claimed to have obtained cable transcripts from Libyan agents in East Germany involved in the attack. After several days of diplomatic talks with European and Arab partners, President Ronald Reagan ordered eighteen F-111F strike aircraft of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying from RAF Lakenheath supported by four EF-111A Ravens of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing, from RAF Upper Heyford in England to strike targets in Libya in conjunction with fifteen A-6, A-7, F/A-18 attack aircraft and EA-6B Prowler Electronic Warfare Aircraft from the aircraft carriers USS Saratoga, USS America and USS Coral Sea on station in the Gulf of Sidra. The planes flying from Britain had to fly over the Atlantic, down the coast of Spain, and then turn east into the Mediterranean because the French and Spanish governments refused permission to use their airspace for the attack. This necessitated use of mid-air refueling. The attack lasted about ten minutes, hitting several targets early on 15 April. Two American airmen[11] were killed when their plane was shot down over the Gulf of Sidra. Forty-five Libyan soldiers and government officials and fifteen civilians were also killed.


In 1989, in another Gulf of Sidra incident, two Libyan MiG-23 Flogger aircraft were shot down when it was believed they were about to attack the U.S. fighters that were in the area. In this instance, the Flogger pilots were reportedly lost when they were fired on and successfully shot down after a series of missile launches, although they were seen to eject and parachute into the sea.

Libyan civil war

The Gulf of Sidra in the Libyan Civil War.

See also


  1. Acts 27:10-19
  2. For usage see Deissmann, Adolf (1912) St. Paul: a study in social and religious history Hodder and Stoughton, London, page 268 footnote 1, OCLC 1240027
  3. [1]
  4. LexisNexis
  5. Maritime Claims
  6. UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone
  7. Kimmitt, Robert M. (2006, August 20). "Reagan and Gadhafi". The Washington Times, Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  8. Beecher, William. (1973, March 23). "U.S. Asserts Plane Fled Libyan Jets: 'Eavesdropping' Transport Ignored Arabs' Signal to Land, Officials Say". The New York Times.
  9. Finney, John W. (1973, March 25). "Trouble Again Over The 'Elint'". The New York Times.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Congressional Research Service Issue Brief for Congress: Libya". (2002, April 10). Foreign Press Centers, U.S. Department of State, Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  11. Captain Paul F. Lorence, Major Fernando L. Ribas-Dominicci

External links

Media related to Gulf of Sirte at Wikimedia Commons

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