Iraqi Vessel Boarded Outside Persian Gulf
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ U.S. Navy sailors boarded an Iraqi freighter in the Arabian Sea today and fired warning shots in a fracas with the crew and female members of a peace mission aboard the vessel, a U.S. military spokesman said.
In the 30-minute confrontation aboard the 11,333-ton Ibn Khaldoon, the sailors also fired a smoke grenade and a noisemaker grenade ″for crowd control,″ said a U.S. Navy spokesman, Cmdr. Mark Neuhart.
The vessel, en route to the Iraqi port of Basra, carried 800 tons of sugar, Neuhart said. The cargo was in violation of A U.N. embargo on trade with Iraq aimed at forcing Saddam Hussein to relinquish Kuwait.
A British defense ministry spokesman, quoted by the Press Association in London, said helicopter-borne U.S. sailors led the boarding party and British and Australian military men later followed by boat.
He said the operation was carried out off Oman near Masirah Island. The ship was ″secured″ and escorted to a nearby anchorage, he said.
Neuhart said the trouble started when the sailors approached the pilot house of the freighter ″and a number of the crew attempted to hold the boarding party members back and grab their weapons.″
He said members of a female peace delegation aboard the ship, which included Americans, also joined in the fracas, but that neither the crew nor the women used weapons against the boarding party.
He said that in the fracas, ″one of our guys was knocked over by one of the women.″
The Iraqi shipmaster claimed that there were two heart attacks and two miscarriages because of the boardings, but a U.S. Navy medical officer found the claims unfounded, Neuhart said.
″After consultations with the master, he agreed the passengers did not require medical evacuation and there were no injuries,″ said Neuhart.
The master agreed to divert his ship to an unidentified port to discharge the cargo, the Navy spokesman said.
The ship was carrying about 240 passengers and a 40-member Iraqi crew. Baghdad Radio said today the women aboard were from 10 Arab countries, Italy, China, the United States and Japan.
Pro-Iraqi Arab news reports have dubbed the Ibn Khaldoon ″the peace ship″ and said it was sailing to Basra in a demonstration of support for Saddam and his initiatives for solving the Persian Gulf crisis.
The Ibn Khaldoon went through the Suez Canal in mid-December en route from Algeria. The shipmaster gave the vessel’s origin of voyage as Aden, Yemen.
The vessel refused to stop for a search after ″repeated requests″ when first intercepted by the Australian frigate HMS Sydney early today. The Sydney, five U.S. warships and the Britain’s HMS Brazen were involved in the boarding.