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Sailors, Iraqi Marines Defend Offshore Terminals

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

AL BASRA OIL TERMINAL, Iraq, May 2, 2006 – It looks like a scene from the movie "Waterworld" here off the Iraqi coast.

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More than a thousand meters of catwalks tie the Al Basra Oil Terminal together miles off the shore of Iraq in the Northern Arabian Gulf. The Iraqi facility pumps oil into waiting supertankers. U.S. Navy and Iraqi marines guard the facility. Photo by Jim Garamone
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Two oil terminals - this one and the Khawr al Amaya a few kilometers away - rise from the sea, miles out of sight of land. The oil wealth of Iraq flows into supertankers that berth here.

There is a post-Apocalyptic, industrial wasteland feel to this oil terminal. It's all hard edges - steel grating, concrete and massive valves. The whine of machinery, the thump of pumps and the roar of generators are constant. The smell of crude oil permeates everything.

The two platforms may be the most important economic facilities in the region. They pump oil around the clock. Officials estimate the flow is worth $18,000 a second to the people of Iraq.

Terrorists are aware of the target the platforms present. On April 24, 2004, they launched an attack on the Al Basra terminal that coalition forces foiled, but at the cost of the lives of two U.S. sailors and a Coast Guardsman.

Today, a U.S. Navy detachment and a group of Iraqi marines are the last line of defense in case of attack.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kenny Miller said the sailors of Guam's Mobile Security Detachment 71 work alongside Iraqi marines to defend the platforms. There are 45 sailors deployed to the platforms, who man defensive positions all along the 1,040 meters of them.

The security detachment works with the Iraqis, who are guarding their country's most precious resource, to ensure they can handle any contingency. "We consider ourselves family on both platforms and we will fight alongside them if necessary to ensure the platform security," he said.

He said the Iraqis are eager to learn and have worked well with his sailors.

"We've had good relations with the Iraqis," said Petty Officer 1st Class Billy Carver, the lead trainer with the detachment. "Everything runs pretty smooth," he said. "We train like we fight, fight like we train. But beyond that, we share food with them, barter with them. It's nice."

The sailors live in Conex boxes outfitted as quarters, three men to a box, and Navy Seabees built a small recreation room for the sailors. The ships off the platforms deliver chow three times a day. The sailors call such deliveries "meals on keels."

The detachment sends marshaling teams to the supertankers as they approach the platforms. The teams protect the pilot and the ship's captain, and make sure nothing interferes with the vessels' operations, Miller said.

Weather conditions can be challenging on the platform. "When it storms, the whole structure shakes," said Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Gallagher, a corpsman with the detachment. "The winds go from zero to 60 in seven seconds and dust comes out here from I-don't-know-where."

And every day there are exercises to ensure the detachment and the Iraqi marines remain sharp. Called "wolverines," these exercises ensure the defenders can fully man their positions in a specified period of time. Miller said the men are well under that time.

And the detachment constantly wargames scenarios to ensure they defend against all threats: air, sea and under the sea. "There will be no failure of imagination out here, because failure is not an option," Miller said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe sun sets behind ships berthed at the Al Basra Oil Terminal out in the Northern Arabian Gulf. The terminal is crucial to Iraq's future. Iraq's oil wealth reaches the outside world via this terminal and Khawr al Amaya Oil Terminal a few kilometers away. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePipes carry Iraq's lifeblood onto waiting supertankers on the Al Basra Oil Terminal in the Northern Arabian Gulf. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSailors exhibit a sense of humor in their sign boosting the merits of their facilities on the Al Basra Oil Terminal in the Northern Arabian Gulf. The platform pumps about $18,000 worth of Iraq's oil per second into waiting supertankers. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. sailors from Mobile Security Detachment 71 rest outside their quarters on the Al Basra Oil Terminal in the Northern Arabian Gulf. The sailors protect the terminal from terrorist attacks. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Navy security personnel live and work in a maze of industrial-sized pipes and gauges on the Al Basra Oil Terminal in the Northern Arabian Gulf. The terminal pumps Iraqi oil into waiting supertankers. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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