ABU DHABI Ñ Britain and the United States have prepared a fleet of
naval vessels to respond to an environmental disaster in the Persian Gulf
sparked by the war against Iraq.
In the 1991 Gulf war, Iraq blew up Kuwaiti oil facilities and pumped
five million barrels of crude oil into the sea. The Iraqi sabotage caused
damage to the Gulf region that lasted for years.
"The Iraqi regime has shown willingness to conduct environmental
terrorism by putting oil into the water," Lt. Rick Westler, executive
officer of the USS Walnut, said. "They have done it in the past and they may
do it again. That is why we are here."
The anti-Iraq coalition has flown in teams and deployed vessels to help
prevent and respond to any Iraqi sabotage of the Gulf, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said among
the threat assessments is Iraqi dumping of oil in the sea as well as
the sabotage of Gulf Arab oil facilities.
The U.S. Coast Guard has been authorized to organize and plan
the environmental mission. At least two vessels have been entrusted with
rapid response against any Iraqi environmental attack and another five ships
have been held in reserve.
The USS Walnut is a coast guard cutter sent to the Gulf to lead
environmental rescue operations. The Walnut is a Juniper-class vessel that
measures 225 fleet and has a weight displacement of 2,000 tons. The vessel
has a 50-member crew.
The U.S. Navy has contributed the USS Comstock and is also on alert for
any Iraqi sabotage strike. The Comstock contains equipment to respond and
limit an environmental attack.
"We are designed to be a first responder, which means if there was a
massive release of oil we would respond immediately," Westler said. "Once we
get to the scene of the spill we have four inflatable barges, which can each
hold 25,000 gallons of oil."
The allied operation will be supported by U.S. Coast Guard aircraft. The
planes are equipped with radar that can quickly detect oil slicks.
Officials said the Coast Guard has placed buoys in the Gulf with
sensors. The sensors send data regarding the direction of the tide that can
allow environmental experts to predict where an oil slick is headed.
Westler said the crew of the Walnut has undergone special training to
respond to a disaster. He said his crew has never helped clean up an oil
"We were training back in December, which gave us a chance to break out
the equipment and use it," Westler said. "We were able to practice skimming
oil off the water and even though we have never done it on an actual oil
spill, we are more than capable."