WAR ON TERROR NEWS ANALYSIS SPECIAL
The British fleet is maintaining its commitment to the 'War on Terrorism' with a changeover of warships on station in the Gulf region.
The helicopter carrier HMS Ocean (L12) left UK waters for the Middle East in mid-February, due to replace HMS Illustrious (R06), which has been operating in a secondary LPH role since the end of last year. Aboard HMS Ocean are 250 Royal Marines from 45 Commando, who have replaced RMs from sister unit 40 Commando as the rapid-reaction spearhead unit of 3 Commando Brigade. The Type 22 (Batch 3) frigate HMS Cornwall (F99) has also headed home, after being replaced by sister ship HMS Campbeltown (F86) on station at the head of the RN task group's escort force. Meanwhile the newest frigate in commission in the Royal Navy, HMS Portland (F79), has just arrived in the Gulf itself enforcing UN sanctions against Iraq.
The Adelaide Class frigate HMAS Newcastle (06) and assault ship HMAS Manoora (L52) left Sydney in late January and were joined by Perth-based HMAS Canberra (02) in the Arabian Sea. They relieved Kanimbla (L51), Sydney (03) and Adelaide (01).
The Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) have sent the destroyers JDS Haruna (DDH141), JDS Sawakaze (DDG170) and the fleet oiler JDS Tokiwa (AOE423) to relieve the destroyers Kurama (DDH144) and Kirisame (DD104) and oiler Hanama (AOE 424) on station in the Arabian Sea.
Meanwhile the Canadian warship HMCS Vancouver (331), operating in the North Arabian Sea, has been credited with the apprehension of a merchant vessel suspected of coordinating oil smuggling operations out of Iraq.
The M/V Zakat was itself carrying suspected smuggled oil and the four-day operation took place in international waters off the coast of Pakistan.
Vancouver's boarding party took control of the ship while the ship's CH-124 Sea King helicopter and the frigate kept guard. Boarding the Zakat was unusually difficult as the ship was listing six degrees to port. The Zakat's crew did not resist the initial boarding party and there were no incidents when the Vancouver team mustered the 16-member crew and took control of the bridge, and engine room.
After the ship was declared seaworthy, the remainder of the boarding party boarded Zakat and undertook an extensive two-and-a-half day search. The team found significant communications equipment, technical facilities, hidden charts and documentation, along with extensive repair equipment consistent with experienced smuggling activity and perhaps the coordination of a smuggling operation.
The ship was dead in the water during the initial boarding, and, while Vancouver's engineering department was able to correct the ship's list to one degree, they were not able to restart the ship's engines that were possibly sabotaged.
The Zakat crew provided no engineering assistance. Subsequently, the Canadian warship took the Zakat in tow back to the Arabian Gulf where it was turned over to another coalition vessel for further investigation.
Canadian Navy ships operating in the Northern Arabian Sea and Arabian Gulf are the lead ships in the interdiction of fleeing Al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel.
The Canadian presence in Middle East waters has been boosted by the arrival of the frigate HMCS Ottawa (341). She sailed Canada's Esquimalt Naval Base in mid-February and, shortly before leaving for the deployment, successfully test-fired her Sea Sparrow missiles. Ottawa will be joining the Canadian Naval Task Group in the Arabian Sea.
Iraq's pursuit of Weapons of Mass Destruction puts it on the potential target list while others in the Middle East theatre of operations are suspected of harbouring terrorist bases or otherwise providing support to Al-Qaeda.
While Iraq is the most obvious target for those favouring the eradication of 'State Terrorism', it is more likely that several avenues of attack will be pursued across an arc of operations extending from the Adriatic to the Asia. Countries on the potential target list include Somalia, Sudan, Iraq plus even Libya and Albania. The USA is also encouraging Yemen, the Philippines and Indonesia to tackle Al-Qaeda-affiliated terror groups.
Naval forces from many nations are now involved in the campaign. By last month in excess of 80 naval vessels were in the coalition armada, the majority of them from the US Navy.
Also there - as seen in reports above - are ships from France, Italy, Australia, Canada, the UK, and Holland. Strike jets from the Italian carrier Garibaldi (C551) and France's Charles de Gaulle (R 91) have been assigned to the campaign. Liaison officers from the de Gaulle and the Garibaldi have been put aboard the Theodore Roosevelt to ensure harmonised operations. France sent the Charles de Gaulle Carrier Battle Group under the deployment