ABOARD USS CONSTELLATION, At Sea (NNS) -- Feb. 11 wasn't just another day for the staff of San Diego-based destroyer squadron (DesRon) 7.
In partnership with a multinational maritime interception force (MIF) of partners from around the globe, staff members anxiously awaited reports from Her Majesty's Australian Ship (HMAS) Cardiff after weeks of intelligence collection and diligent planning. The goal:
verification that a three-ship take down in progress by the Royal Marines and crew of Cardiff was a success, effectively shutting down one-third of the 'new wave' of Iraqi oil smuggling regime.
As reports came in, the results were clear. Boarding teams were able to take control of the three steel-hull ships, each boasting a 5,000 to 6,000 dry weight ton (DWT) capacity of illegal oil. The three tankers accounted for approximately one-third of the estimated fleet of consolidation tankers that specialize in the illegal marketing of Iraqi oil; pursuit of the remainder of the smuggling fleet is in progress.
Embarked aboard USS Constellation (CV 64) operating in the Arabian Gulf, the staff of Commander, Destroyer Squadron 7 has become accustomed to the waiting game. Data collection and careful assembly of evidence packages have become vital in the wake of last year's shift in oil smuggling tactics towards the use of "consolidation tankers," ships that bunker oil from smaller platforms and are more capable of slipping past the coalition of ships in position to detect and return them to Iraq. Verifying the transfer of oil from the smaller "dhows" to the larger tankers is key to the seizure and halt of the practice of illegal oil trade.
Current Gulf operations are a true coalition effort. Reports from a December routine boarding by the crew of HMAS Anzac assisted in paving the way for this effort, forming the data trail that links the smuggling community together. Hidden tanks were then confirmed, and the source of oil was verified as Iraqi. In close partnership with the staff of Commander, 5th Fleet, intelligence collection continued until conditions permitted the eventual "go ahead" given by Commodore Mark Balmert, Commander DesRon 7, to initiate the boardings.
"Today's seizure of approximately $1 million (U.S. dollars) in oil makes for a successful day," commented Lt. Bruce Stanley, one of the squadron's tactical action officers (TAO). "But in addition to impacting the operation of third-party smugglers, profits are prevented from returning to the Iraqi regime. The effects of the three-ship seizure will impede smuggling channels for months to come," Balmert added.
Monday's take-down could be considered a "jackpot"; three large tankers caught in the act of accepting Iraq's contraband oil. Analysis continued throughout the week to determine the exact origin of the oil and the fate of the three tankers. Lt. Lacey Edge, another TAO added, "Our work will continue. There's always another ship behind the one just captured."
News of the MIF's early-January seizure of the three consolidation tank ships has spread quickly throughout the smuggling network, and soon, new tactics and routes will emerge. With large profits to be gained, and a bounty of oil to smuggle, the profit margin is great. Meanwhile, the coalition's work continues daily in pursuit of the remainder of the smuggling fleet. Teamwork and multinational spirit drive them on.
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