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Tanker Owners Seek Protection For Gulf Shipping

July 29, 1987

LONDON (AP) _ The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners called on major world powers Wednesday to form a multinational naval force to protect commercial shipping in the war-torn Persian Gulf.

The group’s chairman, tanker magnate Basil Papachristidis, said U.S. naval protection of 11 reflagged Kuwaiti tankers is putting all other vessels plying the Gulf ″in greater peril.″

The Oslo, Norway-based group represents more than 75 percent of the world’s non-oil company tanker tonnage. Its 262 members have a combined fleet of 135 million tons.

″Major powers with naval presence in the area have chosen to protect only vessels flying their own flag,″ Papachristidis told a news conference.

″That’s unsatisfactory, simply because that represents only a very small population of vessels.″

Because the United Nations would be unable to quickly set up an effective escort fleet in the Gulf, he said, naval powers already in the region - Britain, France, United States and the Soviet Union - should act together.

″What we need is protection provided by a combination of destroyers, minesweepers, aircraft, helicopters that are deployed in an efficient manner in the area, at those points where we know the risk of attack is highest,″ he said.

The Canadian-born Papachristidis, whose business is based in London, said the major powers have a ″responsibility to provide protection for all tankers and all ships trading ... to non-belligerent countries.″

″We’d like to see this thing (protection force) set up today,″ he said. ″If the Soviets jump in, we’ll accept protection from wherever it comes.

″It may be a simple declaration by Britain, France and United States to the effect that they will not tolerate any attacks on merchant shipping,″ he said.

Iran and Iraq both have attacked merchant ships in moves to cripple one another’s economies in their 7-year war, but since September Iran has concentrated its attacks on vessels serving Kuwait. Iran has accused the emirate of supplying arms to Iraq.

Papachristidis said the Reagan administration’s agreement to reflag and protect Kuwaiti tankers in the Gulf may be setting a dangerous precedent in terms of navigational freedom.

″Do fleets of the world have to become nationals of major powers in order to gain protection?″ he asked. ″Are we establishing a principle here, that if we want to sail freely upon the seas we have to become Americans or Englishmen or Frenchmen?

″Surely that’s not something we want to pursue,″ he said. ″We have to take the bull by the horns and say: ‘Enough to this flagrant violation of international law.’ ″

While Papachristidis said he believes the United States is trying to reduce tension in the area, he said its protection of Kuwaiti tankers is ″probably exacerbating the tensions″ by not addressing the rest of shipping in the area.

A joint naval venture ″is a much less risky operation than what the Americans have undertaken. We want to separate this question (of protecting commercial shipping) from the whole Iran-Iraq conflict.

″We want our vessels who are sitting ducks to no longer be subjected to wanton attacks,″ he said.

More than 330 unarmed merchant ships have been hit, more than 200 seamen have been killed and as many wounded in attacks along the 600 mile Gulf since the war erupted in September 1980.

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