Iranian Minelaying In Gulf Worries Seafarers
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ As the U.S. Navy prepares to escort Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf, Iran is mining the narrow approaches to Kuwait’s Al-Ahmadi oil terminal, gulf- based maritime salvage executives said.
The mines, being planted by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and explosives experts, can be detonated by remote control or automatically tripped by ships passing over them, the executives said. Some of the mines are being buried in the seabed, where they will be difficult to detect with minesweepers.
Arab and Western diplomatic sources confirmed the mining is taking place.
Defense officials at the Pentagon, who demanded anonymity, agreed today that Washington recently received evidence suggesting Iran was laying mines. One source said such an operation would be cause for serious concern, ″because quite frankly our minesweeping capabilities in the Persian Gulf are nil.″
U.S. officials believe the mines may be bottom-anchored instead of free- floating, the sources said. They refused to go into further detail.
Kuwait is registering 11 of its 21 tankers in the United States to put them under the protection of the American flag. That would make them eligible for escort by the U.S. Navy.
Three ships, including the Soviet tanker Marshal Chuikov, have been disabled by Iranian mines since May 16, the day before an Iraqi warplane attacked the USS Stark, killing 37 crewmen. Baghdad said its forces mistook the Stark for an Iranian warship, and apologized for the attack.
The salvage executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they are convinced the attack on the Marshal Chuikov was deliberate, noting that a fully-laden tanker had sailed safely through the same channel an hour before the Soviet vessel was hit.
They dismissed speculation by marine shipping officers that the mines were simple floating devices dropped into the channel from speedboats.
″I think we’re dealing with two types of mines. One is the acoustically controlled type that detonates after a set number of ships have passed over them,″ one salvage officer told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The second type, a remote-controlled mine, was used against the Chuikov, he said. ″The Chuikov had left its warship escort behind and was by itself when it hit the mine,″ he added.
The mines are made out of plastic which would make them difficult to detect with minesweepers, the executives contended.
Iran and Iraq, at war for 6 1/2 years, have attacked more than 200 tankers and freighters in the gulf in an effort to cripple each other’s economies.
The salvage executives said they did not know where the Iranians were getting the mines, which they termed small, sophisticated devices.
″The Iranians, it seems, have access to some of the world’s most modern military equipment,″ said one Abu Dhabi-based Arab diplomat, who requested anonymity.
The three vessels damaged by mines are the Marshal Chuikov, the Liberian- flagged Primrose, and the Greek supertanker Ethnic. They are at the port of Dubai for repairs.
The Iraqis attack Iran-bound ships in a 75-mile radius around Iran’s Kharg Island oil terminal.
The Iranians have accused gulf Arab powers of aiding Iraq’s war effort and vowed to make the region’s sea lanes unsafe for Iraqi oil exports.
The Tehran regime has in recent months singled out Kuwait as Iraq’s main supporter. In addition to the mines near Al-Ahmadi terminal, Iranian gunboats often attack Kuwait-bound vessels in international waters in the gulf’s southern sector.