WEB SPECIAL - Attack on America



  • Charles Strathdee (USA & CAN)
  • Iain Ballantyne & Peter Hore (UK)


An armed Canadian sailor searches a dhow apprehended in the Arabian Sea. Photo: MARCOM.

Canadian naval forces continue to spearhead the international maritime effort to intercept suspect shipping in the Arabian Sea. Commodore Eric Lerhe, commanding officer of Canada’s Maritime Fleet Pacific took over as commander of the Canadian Naval Task Group (CTG) from Commodore Drew Robertson, Commander of Canada’s Maritime Fleet Atlantic, in April.

The Esquimalt-based warships, HMCS Ottawa (341) and HMCS Algonquin (283), together with the support ship HMCS Protecteur (509), are on station, with another Canadian frigate deployed as an integral part of a US Navy Carrier Battle Group.

The effort to detect possible terrorist activity at sea stretches across the Indian Ocean too, with the British frigate HMS Campbeltown (F86) being among the Allied vessels on surveillance and interdiction duty. She was due to be replaced this month (August) by sister ship HMS Cumberland (F85).

Last month’s (July's) discovery of an abandoned merchant vessel adrift in the Indian Ocean, that had been hi-jacked some time earlier, reinforced the necessity of the interdiction effort. Weapons and other items aboard indicated that the vessel may have been used by members of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

The other Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIOPS) ‘front’ in the Middle East is in the Arabian Gulf, where a multi-national task group is enforcing United Nations sanctions on Iraq.

The trade sanctions are being applied until Saddam fully complies with ceasefire conditions imposed after Iraq’s defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, namely that all Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programmes should cease. All existing WMDs are meant to have been destroyed, but UN arms inspectors have been barred from Iraq since 1998, so there is no sure way of verifying the extent of Iraqi non-compliance. The main way in which Saddam is believed to be raising money to fund his weapons programmes is via the secret sale of oil beyond a quota allowed under the UN sanctions.

It is thought that the Iraqis covertly transport around 480,000 barrels of illegal oil a day by various routes. Boarding teams from warships belonging to the USA, UK and Australia frequently stop and search suspect vessels. But, despite these efforts, American defence sources estimate that the multi-national naval force in the Gulf only interdicts a quarter of the total amount smuggled out via sea routes.

The Australian frigate HMAS Arunta leaves for the Gulf, to join the Maritime Interdiction Force. Photo: RAN.

The Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Melbourne (05) recently took over MIOPS duties from sister ship HMAS Newcastle (06) and the frigate HMAS Arunta (151) has joined her, relieving HMAS Canberra (02) in mid-July.

Shortly before ending her deployment, the Canberra loaned her boarding team to the US Navy destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56). The Australians were soon leaping into action, fast-roping out of a helicopter to take command of a tanker suspected of carrying illegal oil.

The American cruiser USS Vicksburg on the hunt for suspect shipping in the Arabian Sea. Photo: US Navy.

Boarding teams from the American cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG 69) have also been playing a prominent part in the enforcement of sanctions, as have sailors from British warships.

The Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Portland (F79), which returned to Devonport at the end of July, made two high-profile interceptions in the Gulf. On one vessel Portland’s boarding team discovered 3,100 tons of diesel oil. Type 23 sister ship HMS Argyll (F231) has taken over from Portland in the Gulf and will be conducting MIOPS until the autumn. The Royal Navy traditionally also has a Type 42 air-defence destroyer deployed to the Gulf.


The Australian frigate HMAS Canberra in Middle East waters. Photo: RAN.

The Australian frigate HMAS Canberra returned home to Fleet Base West in early August after five months conducting maritime interdiction operations in Middle East waters.

During her deployment Canberra conducted 52 boarding operations and diverted 101 ships to a holding area for further investigation by UN inspectors.


The USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Carrier Battle Group (CBG) has been sent to the Arabian Sea as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. CVN 72 is carrying Carrier Air Wing 14, flying the new F/A-18 E/F strike fighter. The Lincoln has relieved Nimitz Class sister ship USS George Washington (CVN 73) and her CBG.

See P8/15 of the Aug/Sept edition for our special feature on Coalition maritime interdiction in both the Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

See P2 news story in the same edition for more detail on MIOPS.