Naval build up over Iraq

Jan 9, 2003
Author: P&S

The extent of US and British intentions with respect to a possible conflict in Iraq is becoming clearer following reports of a massive naval build-up in the northern Indian Ocean to coincide with the increase in personnel being sent to the Middle East.

Among the ships en route for duty in adjacent waters are several US nuclear aircraft carrier groups.

Other US support vessels including a hospital ship have sailed for the Arabian Gulf and the number of US Military Sealift Command (MSC) vessels passing the South African coast (with some calling at Durban) en route to and from Diego Garcia is continuing.

The most recent arrivals in Durban were the MSC pre-positioning ship Pfc James Anderson Jr (AK3002) at the end of November and the large 288m 487,143-gt USNS Algol (TAKR 287) during December 2002.

Algol was of special interest as she is one of a group of steamships that rate as among the fastest freighters ever built, capable of maintaining 33 knots.

Some of the latter vessels may be regarded as being on routine missions, but others like the 16,606-dwt Cornhusker State were specially reactivated to assist with the Afghanistan campaign - Cornhusker State for instance served as a floating storage facility for ammunition and other supplies.

In December it was announced that the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier Ark Royal will leave for the Gulf on Saturday, 11 January 2003, accompanied by HMS Marlborough (Duke class frigate), HMS Liverpool (type 42, batch 2 destroyer), a fleet submarine, and supported by the Royal Auxiliary Fleet replenishment ship Fort Victoria plus the support tanker/oiler Orange Leaf.

Now comes a report in the leading British shipping newspaper Fairplay (8 January, 2003) that the UK's Ministry of Defence (MOD) has chartered nearly 40 ships in preparation for a possible conflict with Iraq.

These are said to include at least 25 Ro-Ro vessels, seven Lo-Los, one semi-submersible and one heavy lift and have been chartered for an initial period of three months.

Fairplay reports that among the Ro-Ros chartered are the Stena Shipper, Sochi, Nordana Surveyor, Sea Admiral, Wind Admiral, Dart 8 and Dart 9, Lyra, Hereford, Tor Anglia, Vikingland and Southern Trader. Its said there is also a large Turkish-flag Ro-Pax vessel, which reportedly normally operates in the Black Sea.

*Picture shows USNS Algol in Durban harbour during November

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