SYDNEY MORNING HERALD – – March 26 2003
Coalition naval forces were on high alert against suicide attacks after Iranian gunboats intercepted an Iraqi speedboat packed with half a tonne of high explosive.
Three other Iraqi speedboats, which it is feared may contain similar amounts of explosive, got away when Iranian forces engaged Iraqis at the mouth of the Shatt-al-Arab River, the waterway that marks the border between the two countries. The explosives were discovered after one of the Iraqi boats was run aground during the confrontation.
British, American and Australian warships in the region have been on high alert for the risk of al-Qaeda strikes since the suicide attack against the USS Cole in October 2000 in which 17 American sailors were killed, and last year’s ramming of the French oil tanker, the Linburg. But the discovery of the Iraqi speedboats is the first definite physical evidence that suicide attacks are being planned in the region.
Before the war started Rear Admiral David Snelson, the British naval commander in the Gulf, said the threat of small speedboats packed with explosives was “uppermost in his mind” in terms of threats to the Royal Navy.
All 30 navy and Royal Fleet auxiliary vessels in the Gulf have mounted round-the-clock force protection squads on deck. Armed with general-purpose machine guns, the squads have permission to open fire on vessels if they continue to close on a ship after ignoring signals and warning shots across the bow.
The Australian warship Kanimbla which is responsible for orchestrating the clearance of the Kwahrade Abdalla river to allow humanitarian aid into Iraq, also has more than 20 heavily armed boarding passes of Royal Marines and other specialist troops operating out of rigid rubber inflatable boats.