[LINK] Three mystery ships are tracked over suspected 'weapons' cargo

Bernard Robertson-Dunn brd@austarmetro.com.au
Thu, 20 Feb 2003 13:29:33 +1100

Whatever else Saddam Hussein is, he is cunning and he is a survivor. And he
plays by his own rules.

The military call it asymmetrical warfare

Three mystery ships are tracked over suspected 'weapons' cargo
By Michael Harrison
19 February 2003
The Independent

Three giant cargo ships are being tracked by US and British intelligence on
suspicion that they might be carrying Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Each with a deadweight of 35,000 to 40,000 tonnes, the ships have been
sailing around the world's oceans for the past three months while
maintaining radio silence in clear violation of international maritime law,
say authoritative shipping industry sources.

The vessels left port in late November, just a few days after UN weapons
inspectors led by Hans Blix began their search for the alleged Iraqi
arsenal on their return to the country.

Uncovering such a deadly cargo on board would give George Bush and Tony
Blair the much sought-after "smoking gun" needed to justify an attack on
Saddam Hussein's regime, in the face of massive public opposition to war.

The ships were chartered by a shipping agent based in Egypt and are flying
under the flags of three different countries. The continued radio silence
since they left port, in addition to the captains' failure to provide
information on their cargoes or their destinations, is a clear breach of
international maritime laws.

The vessels are thought to have spent much of their time in the deep waters
of the Indian Ocean, berthing at sea when they need to collect supplies of
fuel and food. They have berthed in a handful of Arab countries, including

American and British military forces are believed to be reluctant to stop
and search the vessels for fear that any intervention might result in them
being scuttled. If they were carrying chemical and biological weapons, or
fissile nuclear material, and they were to be sunk at sea, the
environmental damage could be catastrophic.

Washington and London might also want to orchestrate any raids so that they
can present the ships as "evidence" that President Saddam is engaged in
"material breach" of UN resolutions. This could provide the trigger for
military strikes. While security sources in London last night were unable
to provide information on any surveillance operation, the movement of the
three ships is the source of growing concern among maritime and
intelligence experts.

A shipping industry source told The Independent: "If Iraq does have weapons
of mass destruction, then a very large part of its capability could be
afloat on the high seas right now. These ships have maintained radio
silence for long periods and, for a considerable time, they have been
steaming around in ever-decreasing circles."

The ships are thought to have set sail from a country other than Iraq to
avoid running the gauntlet of Western naval vessels patrolling the Gulf.
Defence experts believe that, if they are carrying weapons of mass
destruction, these could have been smuggled out through Syria or Jordan.

Despite hundreds of searches by UN inspectors, no evidence has yet been
found of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programmes. A succession of
"dossiers" presented by Downing Street has been criticised for providing
inaccurate information, with the most recent one subject to ridicule
because a student's 11-year-old doctoral thesis was being passed off as
current intelligence. There was a further setback for Washington and London
when the accuracy of satellite photographs shown to the United Nations by
Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, purporting to show Iraqi officials
moving incriminating evidence from a suspected site, was questioned by Hans

Mr Blix said: "The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as
easily have been a routine activity as a movement of proscribed munitions
in anticipation of an imminent inspection."

Attempts to link the Iraqi regime to al-Qa'ida and other Islamist groups
have also been met with scepticism. The UN says, though, that Iraq has
failed to account for 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents from the war against
Iran; to reveal the whereabouts of 6,500 missing chemical rockets; to
produce evidence it has destroyed 8,500 litres of anthrax; and to account
for 380 rocket engines smuggled into Iraq with chemicals used for missile
propellants and control systems.

Intelligence reports, and some Iraqi defectors, have maintained that
incriminating material and documents relating to weapons of mass
destruction have been buried in remote parts of the country and have also
been hidden in a variety of locations including homes of officials and
scientists, as well as mosques. There have also been claims that chemical
and biological products have been smuggled into Syria. 

If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome;
if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent;
if you believe the military, nothing is safe
-- Lord Salisbury


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Canberra Australia