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U.S. Navy photograph

May 6, 2004

Iraqi force gets patrol boats

Navy News Service reports that two patrol craft departed Bahrain April 30 en route to Umm Qasr, Iraq, where coalition forces will begin training the newly created Iraqi Coastal Defense Force (ICDF).

Patrol Craft 102 and 103 are two of five patrol crafts provided by the United States, and will be the first vessels belonging to the ICDF. The 27-meter long Chinese-made craft were originally to be acquired by the Saddam Hussein regime in 2002 under the oil-for-food program, but were not allowed to enter the country due to their military capabilities.

The United States purchased the boats from the Chinese shipbuilder, said Cmdr. Neil Hanson, maritime interception operations officer for Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet. The purchase included an agreement to compensate the German company shipping the boats so that no one, including Iraq, incurred any financial damage, he added.

After spending nearly two years drydocked in Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates, the boats finally sailed to Iraq. They were manned by British-led coalition forces commanded by Royal Navy Capt. John Murphie, director of ICDF training.

A commanding officer, chief marine engineer, deputy marine engineer, coxswain and eight-man deck crew of British, American and Australian Sailors man each craft and will immediately begin at-sea training with their Iraqi counterparts upon arrival.

ICDF training officially began in January of this year with 214 volunteers attending a three-month boot camp. After completing boot camp and a brief period of leave, the ICDF sailors were transported to the newly constructed base in Umm Qasr, where they began technical training April 21.

"The aim of it all is to equip them and train them, so they can conduct policing operations in their waterways and out to their 12-mile limit, and conduct defense of their shoreline," said Royal Navy Lt. Des Hirons, spokesman for the ICDF training team.

The patrol craft crews will be trained to perform anti-smuggling operations, harbor and coastline defense, search and rescue operations, and various other operations inside the 12-mile international water boundary.

"Any nation that owns coastal waters has an obligation to police and protect those waters," said Hanson. "It's a national responsibility to be able to do these kinds of things."

Many of the ICDF volunteers have previous military or civilian maritime experience, said Hirons.

"They are very keen and very willing to learn," he added. "They are keen to get the boats, and they want to get out and show how good they are. And they are very, very receptive to training. They are like sponges, they just want to absorb as much information out of us as possible."

According to Hirons, the coalition goal is to train the ICDF to a level where it can independently conduct daylight operations by June 1, and by Sept. 30, both day and nighttime operations.

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