Enforcing UN Sanctions: HMNZS TE KAHA in the Gulf
BOARDING Operations in the Gulf
Enforcing UN Sanctions: HMNZS TE KAHA in the Gulf
Far in the north of the Arabian Gulf, HMNZS TE KAHA is now in the frontline of UN sanctions against Iraq. Operating alongside American and Canadian warships, our frigate is working to ensure that the international sanctions are effective, so that Iraq's ability to rebuild its weapons of mass destruction is curtailed
There are three key UN Security Council resolutions that underpin the operations of the Multi-national Interception Force:
* Resolution 661 which prohibits UN members from importing Iraqi goods or exporting to Iraq * Resolution 665 which authorises the coalition maritime interception operation. At present New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Belgium and Britain regularly contribute ships to the operation, along with the US Navy.
* Resolution 986 which allows the limited sale of Iraqi oil (about $US 10 billion annually) for food and humanitarian supplies.
Ordinarily the volume of shipping in the Gulf is huge - massive oil tankers arrive and depart from Kuwait and Iran, while merchant ships of all sizes, ranging from 50,000 tonne bulk carriers laden with wheat to small wooden dhows carying dates, ply the waters where four nations touch the sea.
Two recent factors have increased the numbers of ships and the value of their cargoes - the rising price of oil and the devasting earthquake in Turkey. The former overland routes to the north have been disrupted by the earthquake, so more goods for northern Iran and the eastern parts of Turkey are now being transhipped through the Gulf.
But this year's rise in the oil price gives more incentive to Iraq to try and break the sanctions; even a small cargo successfully smuggled out would now earn three times as much as before.
TE KAHA then is operating in crowded waters, where national territorial seas overlap and a navigational error could lead to an international incident.
The ship's operations room team and bridge staff have to be constantly alert; neither TE KAHA nor her helicopter should stray from their assigned patrol areas.
The Kiwi sailors' daily task is known as VBSS - visit, board, search and seizure. Each ship whether inward or outward bound to Iraq is stopped and inspected. Other ships, bound for other nations, are queried over the radio and their courses checked. And a constant radar and visual lookout is kept for small dhows and other craft that may be attempting to slip past the cordon of naval vessels. Should a smuggler be detected, then the ship would be seized and ordered to sail for a port in Bahrein or Saudi Arabia, where the cargo would be sold with the UN controlling the proceeds.
TE KAHA is under the daily control of Commodore Richard Arnold, USN who is based in the aircraft carrier USS CONSTELLATION. While the carrier and its jets are committed to Operation Southern Watch, the enforcement of UN no-fly-zones over Iraq, Commodore Arnold controls two guided missile cruisers, two Amercian destroyers, a Canadian frigate and a US Coast Guard cutter as well as TE KAHA for the interception operation. Typically two to three of the destroyers and frigates operate close to Iraq, while the other American cruisers and destroyers with their powerful anti aircraft armament are assigned as escorts to the carrier or the accompanying amphibious ships carrying US Marines.
Allowing for some crew rest and maintenance, there are barely enough ships to carry out all the tasks expected of the coalition naval force, so TE KAHA's presence makes a real difference to the pace of operations. This week TE KAHA has been working alongside the Canadian frigate HMCS REGINA and the American destroyer USS KINKAID.
Since arriving on station in the northern Gulf, TE KAHA has carried out seven full VBSS boardings, and 16 radio queries of other merchant ships. As well, one tug and barge combination detained as a possible smuggler required five boardings and some on the spot repair work, since the oil filled barge was barely sea worthy and on the point of being an environmental hazard. TE KAHA's engineers manufactured and fitted replacement tank tops, to make the barge safe.
In addition to enforcing the sanctions, TE KAHA also carries out "health and comfort" visits to merchant ships in the area. These visits are a goodwill gesture, intended to ensure that the merchant crews are in good health and are well fed. Since there are many flag of convenience ships with crews from other third world countries, visits by UN-mandated boarding parties serve as a check that conditions in those ships are up to appropriate standards.
Constant boarding operations place demands on the ship's boat crew, too. At first conditions were flat calm, but Commander Ross Smith reports the wind soon got up to 20 knots, whipping up short, steep 2 metre seas. "Compared with the Southern Ocean earlier this year that doesn't sound much, but it adds to the stress on the boat crew and boarding parties," he commented.
"With daily starts at 0500 for the boarding teams, the whole ship's company are working very hard, in very hot conditions," Commander Smith reports. "Nevertheless everyone seems to be enjoying the challenge, and judging by the comments from our boss in the carrier (Commodore Arnold) our efforts are being appreciated."