Iran just keeps pushing the envelope. A confrontation of the shooting kind can’t be far off. Something like this incident could escalate quickly, luckily the commanders cooler head prevailed. A tip of the hat to commander Mead.
The crew of an Australian frigate has been involved in a tense stand-off with six Iranian gunboats while guarding Iraq’s vital oil platforms in the northern part of the Persian Gulf.
In the incident last Saturday week, the crew of HMAS Parramatta spotted the six fast motorboats from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy approaching the disputed and invisible international boundary that lies near Iraq’s Khawr Abd Allah oil terminal.
The offshore platform is one of two that carry the oil exports Iraq relies on for 87 per cent of its annual income.
The small, fast Iranian vessels are armed with machine-guns and often carry rocket launchers.
The platforms are considered key targets of Iraqi insurgents and are heavily guarded by coalition forces.
In 2004 three United States sailors protecting the terminals were killed when terrorists aboard a boat they intercepted blew themselves up.
Days ago, an Iranian patrol boat fired on a dhow moving through the area.
Piracy, arms smuggling and other international crimes are rife at the head of the Persian Gulf. The area has had steady commercial traffic for thousands of years and the warship’s radar screens are constantly lit up with contacts that include scores of dhows, tankers, rusty freigh-ters and patrolling warships.
As the Iranian vessels approached, Parramatta’s captain, Commander Jonathan Mead, ordered his crew to sweep at high speed through the area between the border and the exclusion zone around the nearer of the two platforms.
“It was a tense 30 minutes but we were able to de-escalate it,” Commander Mead said. The Iranians eventually turned and headed for home.
It is not clear whether the frigate would have been obliged to open fire if the speedboats approached the oil platforms but Commander Mead said that if they had crossed into Iraqi waters in such large numbers, that would have been a “significant event”.
The rigs are guarded by a force of marines heavily armed with automatic weapons.
The situation may have been helped by the Australians’ handling of an episode two days earlier when an Iranian vessel crossed the boundary and headed towards the exclusion zone.
Parramatta approached the speedboat and Commander Mead had a conversation with one of the Iranian guardsmen who spoke some English.
The conversation was polite but Commander Mead made it clear that the frigate was there to guard the exclusion zone. “I called him ‘Sir’; he called me ‘Captain’. It was very courteous.”
“They see coalition warship No. 154 and know we mean them no harm,” Commander Mead said.
On February 15 a boarding party from the Parramatta searched a freighter near the oil platforms and found 6.24 kilograms of refined ammonium nitrate hidden in a pantry.
The chemical, made in a Ukrainian factory, is frequently a key ingredient of bombs made by insurgents in Iraq.