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Tue 4 Feb 2003 04:00 AM

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Deputy Commander of Coalition forces: Iraq doesn’t have missiles to attack oil tankers in Gulf

Iraq will be unable to attack ships in the Arabian Gulf should war break out, Rear Admiral David Snelson, Deputy Coalition Joint Forces in the Gulf of “Operation Enduring Freedom” and Commander of the UK Maritime Forces, told Arabian Business magazine

Iraq will be unable to attack ships in the Arabian Gulf should war break out, Rear Admiral David Snelson, Deputy Coalition Joint Forces in the Gulf of “Operation Enduring Freedom” and Commander of the UK Maritime Forces, told Arabian Business magazine on the sidelines of a three day general shipping conference, held in Dubai today (Feb 4.)When asked if he saw there was a need for oil and shipping tankers to be escorted by military ships, Rear Admiral David Snelson said, “Iraq has little if any capability to attack ships.” “Most of the missiles of which you read are ballistic missiles for use against fixed installations on the land. If he [Saddam Hussein] has Scuds they are for fixed installations, on the land. They do not have a targeted system that can hit ships,” he added.But R. Adm. Snelson then went on to say, “Iraq does have a missile system [the sticks system] that can be fired at ships in the sea. The southern no fly zone over Iraq allows allied aircraft to keep very good tabs on what’s moving in Southern Iraq. Therefore the likelihood of him being able to deploy such systems without being found is extremely limited.”The Admiral did not foresee a disruption to international trade and oil shipments as a result of hostilities in the Gulf. “Should the international community decide to disarm Saddam Hussein, I think there will be little disruption to sea trade in the Gulf. Although ships will be used to launch missiles or aircraft we have very very strict procedures for making sure that’s done completely safely without any risk to any ships on the high seas. Clearly there will be a disruption in trade to Iraq itself, but other than that I don’t see any change, nor do I see increased risk to shipping.” The Admiral said he didn’t think that vessels need escorts in the Gulf as a lot has been done to reduce what he said, was the threat of terrorism. “The threat would remain very much the same so I don’t see the need for any change in our present pattern of operations at sea.”Analysts say that if a war breaks out in Iraq, insurance premiums for oil-shipping tankers may skyrocket, increasing shipping costs and influencing the price of oil. “If you increase the shipping costs you increase the price that refiners pay for taking delivery of oil,” says Simon Williams, deputy head of the Economist Intelligence Unit in London. “Someone has to absorb the increased costs somewhere down the road they have to be met, and inevitably it has an upward effect on the price of oil.”Ibrahim Al Ghanim, deputy chairman of the Kuwait Oil Tanker, which is owned by the Kuwaiti government and part of Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, who attended the insurance conference in Dubai, believes chances of such a scenario are slim. “You will not have Iraqi planes flying or scud missiles targeting ships,” Al Ghanim said. “Initially the [insurance] price will go up, and if it goes high enough, we will probably go in uninsured or self-insured. We did it once in 1987 during the tank wars,” he added. Al Ghanim also said he anticipated military escorts for tankers operating in the region as the Gulf is an important source of oil for Europe and the US. But while Al Ghanim would not rule out the likelihood of an Iraqi attack on Kuwaiti oil refineries he did say he was confident that no disruption in oil production in Kuwait would take place. “Sabotage is always a question and precautions have to be taken. The plan is to ensure the flow not to stop it. The majority of our income is from oil.” Admiral David Snelson believed talk of inflated insurance costs and inflated oil prices was over exaggerated, however, urging industry players to confront insurance companies for levying high premiums because they operate in the Middle East. “The insurance companies actually would be mis-assessing the situation and if they assess the risk has gone up, if they think it through in fact the risk has not gone up at all,” he said. “I would have thought that the owners [of tankers] ought to be challenging the insurance companies because they have made an incorrect assessment in my view. The fact that there are actually a lot of war ships around now should act as a reassurance to owners and insurance companies. I think it would be sensible to assume that trade with Iraq would be disrupted for a period of time if force was used to disarm Saddam Hussein.”The Admiral refused to give any details as to how long he thought the conflict would last but did say he hoped it would be “very short.”

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