9 August 2006
UMM QASR, Iraq - Iraq’s fledgling navy plans to get 21 new boats over the next two years as it prepares to take over the security of offshore oil terminals, the main gateway for the country’s petroleum exports, a senior naval official said Wednesday.
At present, the terminals are guarded by US and Iraqi sailors while British ships provide a cordon of protection. A British Royal Navy team is also training the Iraqi Navy at its base in Umm Qasr, located on the southeastern tip of largely-landlocked Iraq.
The Iraqi navy _ created after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in March 2003 _ has in operation 10 fast aluminum boats, one rigid convertible and one patrol boat in operation, said Commodore Thamir Nasser, head of operations for the Iraqi Navy. The remaining 12 aluminum boats, nine convertibles and four patrol boats are broken up and cannibalized for spare parts, he said.
A two-year equipment acquisition program will result in the purchase of 15 patrol boats, four 50-meter corvettes and two offshore support vessels, Thamir told journalists touring the Iraqi and British patrol boats.
The delivery of the first vessels is expected by 2008, and the purchases would be funded by the government and foreign money, he said without elaborating. He also did not say which country would sell Iraq the boats.
Umm Qasr, the country’s main commercial port and only blue water port, looks out into a sliver of sea channel connected to the Arabian Gulf, part of Iraq’s coastline that is less than 100 kilometers (60 miles).
The oil pipelines extend out from Umm Qasr into the sea.
The 1,040-meter (3,432-feet) long Basra terminal is about 18 kilometers (11 miles) out to sea, and on an average pumps 1.8 million barrels per day into ships parked alongside the platform’s four berths.
The smaller, the Khor al-Amaya terminal, is about 12 kilometers (8 miles) further north but has been closed since May due to a fire.
Tankers coming into the terminals are boarded by British Royal Navy teams who search the ships for explosives and illegal weapons.
The platforms provide a substantial part of Iraqi income,’ said Cmdr. Gavin Pritchard, the captain of frigate HMS Kent, one of the British warships protecting the platforms.
There is no doubt that they are an economic and environmental target. They are an obvious target to hit for those who want to damage Iraq’s economic well-being,’ he said.
Iraq has the world’s third largest oil reserves, and its oil wealth is likely to lay the foundation of its economic future. Oil has traditionally been exported through the north into Turkey, and through the southern city of Basra to the offshore terminals.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein three years ago, the northern pipeline has been shut down several times because of attacks by insurgents, and virtually all of Iraq’s oil is now exported through Umm Qasr.
Pritchard said the main aim of the British mission is to find ways to get the Iraqis back on their feet, where they can defend Oplats (the oil platforms) themselves.’
The loss of the platforms would be an economic and environmental disaster’ for Iraq, he said.