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Tue 31 Jan 2012 08:53 AM

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GCC states brainstorm back-up plan for Hormuz closure

Iran has threatened to shut vital shipping lane in retaliation for sanctions, curbs on oil sales

GCC states brainstorm back-up plan for Hormuz closure
Iran has warned the GCC not to ramp up output to replace its oil supply

Coastguards and naval forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council
(GCC) group of Arab countries have contingency plans for a possible attempt by
Iran to shut the Strait of Hormuz
, a Kuwaiti maritime official said on Monday.

Five of the six GCC members - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the
United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Kuwait - rely on the world's most
important energy shipping lane being open to export most of their oil or gas.

Tehran has threatened to close the narrow shipping lane
between Oman, the only GCC member which does not depend on Hormuz, and Iran if
Western sanctions aimed at starving Iran's disputed nuclear programme of funds
stop it from selling oil.

The GCC members, which also rely on the four-mile-wide
channel being open to import food for their growing populations, has now drawn
up a contingency plan in case Iran acts on its threats.

"Exporting oil or importing goods and cargo through
Hormuz is a main concern for the GCC," said Commander Mubarak Ali Al-Sabah
chief of maritime operations at Kuwait's Coast Guard.

"The GCC has a plan as a body - not just Kuwait
separately or Bahrain or Saudi Arabia - we have a plan we just hope that
everything stays safe," Al-Sabah said, without giving details of the
plans.

"Awareness and understanding of the consequences of it
has increased," he said."We have plans how to deal with this but
didn't do field exercises on it."

Al-Sabah said the planning included coordinating both
between coastguards and navies of GCC countries and with Western naval forces
patrolling the area - including US, Australian and French navies.

Kuwaiti and Iranian coastguards hold regular meetings on how
to manage their shared maritime border, with the next one scheduled for next
month.

"We don't go into politics or speak about other issues
just what concerns the coastguards and how we can work it out," he said.

Oil tanker flows through the Strait of Hormuz are estimated
at around 16 million barrels per day (bpd), or just under a fifth of global oil
supplies.

A new pipeline from the UAE's oilfields to the Gulf of Oman
could carry most of the Gulf OPEC oil producer's exports if Hormuz were to be
blocked.

But even a brief disruption to shipping could stop most of
the oil exported from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and Iraq from leaving the
Gulf, along with liquefied natural gas (LNG) from leading supplier Qatar.

In December, the US Fifth Fleet said it would not tolerate
any disruption of traffic in Hormuz but analysts say Iran might be able to
hinder traffic transiting the Strait by scattering mines in it.

"In any navy plan that exists there would be plans for
swift coordination to de-mine areas that might have been mined... Or act in
coordination preemptively or reactively to prevent Iranian small vessels
disrupting shipping," Christian Le Miere, research fellow for naval forces
and maritime security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies
said.

Earlier this month, Iran's foreign minister warned Arab
neighbours not to side with the United States in the escalating dispute over
Tehran's nuclear activities which the West says includes weapons development
and Tehran insists are limited to electricity production.