Naval policing keeps Iraqi oil smuggling through Gulf in check
Naval policing has managed to keep in check Iraqi oil smuggling through Gulf waters on "rustbucket and unseaworthy" tankers, British officials said Monday.
"The focus of the sanctions is on oil, and smuggling will remain limited as long as the MIF remains in place," said Simon Collis, Britain's consul general in Dubai, referring to a US-led Multinational Interception Force of Western navies.
He estimated that Iraq's revenues in 2000 from oil smuggling, by land as well as through the Gulf, totalled $600 million, compared to $16 billion in revenues for a humanitarian programme from UN-authorised oil exports. The smuggling "is limited and it will not, by itself, lead to an erosion of sanctions," which have been in force ever since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the diplomat said at a press briefing aboard a British frigate, HMS Cumberland.
"We have no particular concern for other goods," he said, referring to sizeable but less valuable exports of Iraqi dates.
Captain David Cooke, commander of the Cumberland, said loads of between 1,000 and 1,500 tones of oil, mostly semi-refined products but also gas and diesel oil, were being smuggled out on "small rustbucket" ships.
"They have been bought with the intention of smuggling until they fall apart, with no maintenance," he said, adding that the tankers were on average 30 years old, mechanically unreliable and mostly unseaworthy. "They are a menace to other ships," Cooke warned.
Vessels with illegal cargoes that are intercepted by the MIF are escorted into Gulf ports, where the ships and the oil are auctioned off.
The oil proceeds go into the UN escrow account for Iraq. The crews, made up mostly of Iraqi captains and Asians, put up a "passive defence but no resistance," said Cooke.
They weld up access windows and barricade themselves into the bridge with metal sheets, leaving only a gap to navigate.
The volume of Iraqi oil being smuggled out through the Gulf varies, from an estimated high of 400,000 tones last July dropping to levels of around 50,000 tones, according to British navy figures.
Ships carrying contraband oil sail down the Shatt al-Arab waterway between Iraq and Iran and then hug the Iranian coastline until reaching the Strait of Hormuz in the southern Gulf.
At that point, the ships try to dart across to ports in the United Arab Emirates as Western navies try to intercept them in international waters, or the smugglers exit the Gulf and offload onto large tankers.
The Kuwaiti navy and coast guard, which "see a greater level of smuggling activity in their own backyard," play a key role in policing the northern Gulf, said Cooke. —AFP.
©--Agence France Presse 2001.
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)