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Canal Security Stepped Up Against Possible Iraqi Sabotage With AM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt

December 21, 1990

SUEZ, Egypt (AP) _ Security has been increased in the Suez Canal to thwart a possible Iraqi attempt to sink a vessel and block the strategic waterway, canal officials said Friday.

The canal is important for oil shipping as well as for the United States and other countries who are massing warships in the Persian Gulf region.

The new security measures include putting any cement carriers at the rear of canal convoys, so that if they are sunk they would not block other vessels. Once sunk, cement carriers are extremely difficult to clear because of the wet cement.

The canal carries much of Western Europe’s oil and an extended blockage would hit that region’s economy hard. It could be almost ruinous to Egypt, which is dependent on the more than $1.5 billion in foreign exchange earned annually by the canal.

Intelligence sources in Cairo said Friday the new canal measures were in line with a security upgrade ordered nationwide on strategic installations like the canal, the Aswan High Dam in southern Egypt and vital industries.

The measures have been in effect since soon after Egypt condemned Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait and sent troops to join the U.S.-led multinational force deployed in the gulf region.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has threatened to punish Arab states that sided with Kuwait in the crisis.

Canal officials said authorities recently began careful checks of the itineraries and ownership of cement-carrying ships, particularly those coming from the Far East or the gulf region.

On Friday, a Romanian ship carrying cement, the 38,000-ton Beius, was the last of 30 vessels to transit the 101-mile long canal. Its origin and destination were unclear.

The canal officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Suez Canal Authority took the additional safeguard of dispatching two tugboats to follow the Romanian ship through the waterway.

They said more Egyptian harbor workers than usual have been boarding cement-carrying ships. Such workers provide dockside and harbor services at the southern and northern ends of the canal, Suez and Port Said.

In addition, they report to Egyptian intelligence on anything unusual found aboard ships.

Despite the canal’s value to Egypt, President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956 scuttled two ships carrying concrete and stones to block the waterway. He aimed to hurt Western economies in reprisal for a concerted military attack on Egypt by Britain, France and Israel.

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