Thursday, March 20, 2003

Light Duty Alert!
Saddam's navy: Rusting on the Italian Riviera from Chris Wattle in the National Post:
The largest, best and perhaps the last two ships of the Iraqi navy are tied up at a dock on the Italian Riviera, where they and their crews have been impounded since at least the last Gulf War.

The corvettes Moussa Ben Noussair and Tarek Ben Ziad still fly the Iraqi flag and their crews still start up the vessels' engines every morning, but the Esmeralda-class corvettes are going nowhere and have been for almost 19 years.

Their 76-mm cannons, torpedo tubes and rocket launchers are all unarmed and the ships are doing nothing more aggressive than quietly bobbing in the waters of La Spezia, an Italian naval base.
So an odd naval cold war continues over the fate of the two corvettes, including what Mr. Ram calls "a very unofficial agreement" under which Iraq is allowed to rotate new crews into the vessels every six months.

"There's some sort of weird agreement the Italians have with Saddam, allowing him to bring in new crews and take out the old ones," he said. "It's a very weird situation."

The crews are stuck in the cramped quarters of the 70-metre-long vessels, which are sitting in the midst of Italy's second-largest naval base.

"Technically, they can't leave the ship," Mr. Ram said. "But the Italian government has relented and now lets them get off the ship --escorted by Italian secret service guys -- to go to parks or buy groceries.

"Otherwise, they're completely cordoned off by the Italian secret service. No one in the port can talk to them."
Well it beats meeting a bunker buster up close and personal.