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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
Navy frigate stops Iraqi smugglers
HMS Portland moves alongside the smugglers' ship MV Devo
Intelligence information picked out the suspect ship
Navy frigate HMS Portland has stopped an Iraqi ship trying to smuggle illegal oil supplies out of the country.

It is the second such seizure by the warship in just over a month, while patrolling the Persian Gulf.

During Wednesday night's operation Royal Marines boarded the Iraqi vessel hunting for weapons of mass destruction.

File picture showing a member of HMS Portland carrying out a search
A full search of the ship was carried out by the Royal Navy

They immediately took control, with the smugglers putting up "passive resistance", said the Ministry of Defence.

'Crack team'

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Commanding Officer Jonathan Handley of HMS Portland, said intelligence information first revealed the suspected smuggler was at large.

He said: "I am really thrilled that we have a crack team on board and a very good intelligence network to detect these vessels leaving."

A team of specialist Royal Marines went on board the "shabby tanker" first.

It was their job to check for "arms, parts and weapons of mass destruction", said Mr Handley.

They were followed by a second Royal Navy boarding team who conducted a full search and verified the occupants were smugglers.

'Money for Saddam Hussein'

The vessel, MV Devo, had 3,100 tons of contraband diesel oil on board, the MoD said.

It had broken the UN embargo which prohibits Iraq from selling its oil on the open market.

Mr Handley said Iraqi smugglers were "trying to get some money for Saddam Hussein's private use".


This is routine stuff but tiring, given the intense heat that they are experiencing

CO Jonathan Handley

The seizure is the second the warship has made in just over a month while on patrols part of the International Maritime Intervention Force.

In April it stopped a vessel carrying 1,500 tons of diesel fuel.

Mr Handley told the Today programme he believed "very few" smugglers were now getting through, thanks to his teams' detection and intervention.

"This is routine stuff but tiring, given the intense heat that they are experiencing," he added.

An MOD spokesman said the vessel captured on Wednesday night would be handed over to the UN who would sell it for scrap and also sell its cargo to cover its costs.


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09 Jan 02 | Middle East
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