Port Security Conference

April 17 2003

USCG replacing KAA buoys
Coast Guard Cutter Walnut, homeported in Honolulu, Ha., is preparing to replace the channel buoys currently in place in the Khor Abd Allah Waterway that flows to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.

"The current condition of aids to navigation in the KAA is so bad that they actually serve as a hazard to navigation, rather than an aid," said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Smith, Walnut's commanding officer. "We hope to improve the ability of all vessels—-military, humanitarian aid and commercial-—to safely navigate the narrow channel that services Iraq's most critical seaport."

Walnut will be replacing or repairing approximately 40 buoys currently marking the 41-mile channel through the KAA to Umm Qasr. The majority of the equipment being used to make these improvements was located in a warehouse in Umm Qasr and has been inspected and upgraded to ensure that the buoys laid match as closely as possible to the charted channel.

The original mission for which Walnut was dispatched to the Persian Gulf was to be in a proactive position to respond to any acts of environmental terrorism committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Fortunately those threats did not materialize and Walnut has been conducting maritime interdiction operations throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"While we were proud to stand ready to respond to an environmental threat as well as to provide for the security of our naval forces through our interdiction operations, we are particularly eager to conduct our current assignment," said Smith.


  • Significant progress has been made in restoring Iraq's Umm Qasr Port, but it is still not ready for full commercial operations. Earlier this week, the U.S. Navy's maritime liaison office in Bahrain (MARLO) issued an advisory cautioning that he port has not been declared officially open for commercial business by Coalition forces.

  • While mine clearance operations in the entrance channel and explosive clearance operations within the port harbor are substantially completed, significant dredging still needs to occur for optimum vessel draft.

  • Because there is still no electricity at the port, shore and gantry cranes are not operable. It is undetermined when electricity to the port will be restored.

  • Port management is still under Coalition control. Civil Port assessment and commercial viability status is pending. Port workers are returning to Umm Qasr, but in limited numbers only. Stevedoring service are extremely limited.

  • Coalition military forces present at the port are fully engaged in security and restoration work, and will be unable to provide support to commercial cargo operations.

  • Despite the progress to date of Coalition military forces, rail service north of the port is unproven and the roads out of Umm Qasr are not secured. Until the situation stabilizes, safe overland passage for cargo delivery further inland is questionable.

  • There is a low-level security threat from the neighboring area. Although Coalition forces are on patrol in the port area, personal safety remains an issue.

  • Insurance coverage remains an issue to be administered through normal commercial channels, or through host nation governments.

On an extremely limited basis and under restrictive conditions, some ships carrying government-sponsored humanitarian aid cargo only, are being allowed entry to Umm Qasr. These ships are all self-servicing, and are pre-approved for entry by the appropriate authorities on a case-by-case basis.

For the general shipping community, MARLO advises continued patience until Umm Qasr's port services and security issues are resolved. When higher authorities declare the port fully open, we will notify all via these channels, as well as procedures for entry.

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