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spy agencies fail to confirm iraqi ships' existenc

  1. klown

    3,363 Posts.

    British newspaper reports three vessels loaded with WMD circumventing globe
    2003-02-21 / Reuters /
    U.S., British and German intelligence services failed to confirm on Wednesday the existence of three mystery ships suspected of carrying Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, reported by a British newspaper.

    The Independent, quoting what it called authoritative shipping industry sources, said the giant cargo ships had been sailing around the world for three months while maintaining radio silence in violation of international maritime law.

    Financial market dealers said the story increased tensions about Iraq and some said it helped push safe-haven government bonds higher and the dollar lower in early trading on Wednesday.

    The U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet said it had "no information" on the ships at the current time. "We don't have anything here that could credit that report as being true or false or otherwise," spokesman Lieutenant Garrett Kasper said in Bahrain.

    The newspaper said the ships spend much of their time in the Indian Ocean within the Fifth Fleet's area of operations.

    A German security source told Reuters: "We consider the reports to be wrong," adding that if there were such ships, they would be easy to detect with satellites.

    Germany, whose government opposes a war against Iraq, has deployed navy patrols off the east African coast as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in the hunt for Islamic extremists.

    A spokeswoman for Britain's Ministry of defense said: "We don't discuss intelligence issues."

    The International Maritime organization said it was not against the international law of the sea for a ship to withhold information or maintain radio silence on the high seas.

    Kasper said if queried by coalition forces enforcing sanctions against Iraq, suspect ships had to respond under U.N. guidelines. "If a ship fails to respond then it falls into a non-compliant category," he said.

    The Independent said the ships were thought to have set sail from a country other than Iraq to avoid Western naval patrols. It quoted defense experts as saying the ships' cargo could have been smuggled through Syria or Jordan.

    The paper said the ships had been chartered by an Egypt-based shipping agent and were flying under the flags of three different nations. They had berthed in a handful of Arab countries, including Yemen, it said.

    But one maritime security consultant told Reuters the report was credible.

    "It's such a simple answer for Iraq to put the stuff at sea so that inspectors don't have the opportunity of looking at it -- it's just taken a while for people to work that one out," said Stuart Syrad, a former senior officer with Britain's Special Boat Service.

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