MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- USS Typhoon (PC 5) and USS Sirocco (PC 6) joined the maritime security operations force in the Northern Arabian Gulf in June, helping to protect the Iraqi oil terminals.
Departing their homeport of Little Creek, Va. April 30, the two patrol craft are operating alongside USS Firebolt (PC 10) and USS Chinook (PC 9), and a number of other U.S. and coalition warships patrolling the waters around the Al Basrah (ABOT) and Khawr Al Amaya (KAAOT) oil terminals.
Since arriving to the Gulf, Typhoon and Sirocco combined have been actively engaged in enforcing a strict 2,000 meter exclusion zone around the critical oil platforms.
"The crews of Typhoon and Sirocco arrived on station ready to go, and they've already done a spectacular job," said Capt. Kurt Tidd, commander of Task Force 55, currently on scene in the Northern Arabian Gulf.
Firebolt and Chinook and their crews were supposed to have returned to the United States as part of their regular deployment. However, four additional small vessels were requested to assist in the security of the terminals after the April 24 attacks there that killed two U.S. Navy Sailors and one U.S. Coast Guardsman from Firebolt.
The decision was made by Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command to perform a crew swap. After a short turnover, two new crews will man Firebolt and Chinook, allowing the current crews to return home.
"We knew Typhoon and Sirocco were arriving this month as part of a regularly scheduled operational deployment," said Tidd. "But because of our increased security requirements, it was determined that the best option would be to have Firebolt and Chinook remain in theater, bringing the total number of PCs to four. We also have two more Coast Guard vessels arriving in the near future."
Security of the oil terminals was always a high priority, but has become particularly important in the past four months. In addition to the April 24 coordinated attacks, Iraq's oil infrastructure on land has been subject to frequent incursions by saboteurs, hindering the ability of Iraq to earn revenue from oil - revenue absolutely necessary to rebuilding the Iraqi economy.
"The presence of all the PCs is absolutely vital," said Tidd. "But they're small, and can only remain on station for short durations. The more patrol craft we have out here, the better we can not only protect the terminals, but allows the crews periodic rest and time for maintenance."
The PCs and their crew of roughly 35 include U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs) that specialize in high threat, high-risk boardings.
"The PC/LEDET team provides a higher endurance platform, more firepower and full capability boarding," said Firebolt Commanding Officer, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Olson. "Equipped with 25mm cannons, .50 caliber guns and M60s, we are a complete maritime security asset."
Originally established in 1982, the primary mission of a LEDET is to deploy on Navy ships in support of counter drug law enforcement.
"We also conduct compliant and non-compliant boardings, as well as security sweeps of personnel working on the platforms," added Ensign Adam Burkley, officer in charge of LEDET 403 aboard Firebolt, referring to the Iraqi security forces working on the terminals as part of the Coalition Provisional Authority's Task Force SHIELD.
"Typhoon and Sirocco have already contributed to our goal of protecting the terminals at all costs, given their vital importance to the future of the Iraqi people," said Tidd. "We continue to train and work with the Iraqi security forces on the terminals, our aim being to protect the lives of coalition and Iraqi people conducting maritime security operations in the area."
Coalition forces captured both oil terminals during the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom last year, in the effort to prevent environmental sabotage of the terminals by Iraqi forces. ABOT reopened for business July 2003, and KAAOT opened February 28 of this year. Despite a few pauses in response due to insurgent attacks, KAAOT and ABOT combined have pumped more than 450 million barrels of oil to more than 280 tankers, resulting in more than $11 billion in revenue for the Iraqi people since opening.
For related news, visit the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cusnc.