Tuesday, August 27, 2013



       File:Supertanker AbQaiq.jpg
          A U.S. Navy 20 meter patrol boat                                   Typical modern tanker, official U..S. Navy Photographs 

When some of us were attached to a U.S. Navy special boat unit back in the late 1980s the weapons van had a poster in it of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi with a target superimposed over it.
 Muammar al-Gaddafi at the AU summit.jpg We are well aware of his down fall and of the revolution in Libya, but it is still difficult for us to think in terms of anything praise worthy about that nation, though intellectually we know it is a very different place today. We needed something at gut level that we could relate to about Libya that could jolt us out of the old habitual negative mental state.

 Well it happened, and we've had to stand and cheer the captain and crew of a tiny Libyan navy patrol boat that executed flawlessly an operation that many of us as Coast Guard and Navy small vessel veterans are familiar with and always disliked. Nothing puts pressure on a small government vessel commander be it navy, coast guard, or customs  forces of any nation like having to enforce a no entry zone against a determined large merchant vessel. Most shipping usually responds to your radio and visual signals and doesn't challenge even a small armed government vessel. But merchant ships are sometimes on the naval business of their flag state, or true owners, and the master is not worried about keeping his license for flagrantly disobeying the lawful orders of another nation's maritime authority, since he is protected by his naval orders from negative career action back home.

 These incoming ships are many times the size of your little patrol boat and have enough steel and water tight compartments to easily keep going in the face of your small arms, unless you open fire on their navigation bridge, an option that is almost always closed to you by the rules of engagement. Indeed just firing a warning shot, usually authorized by your rules of engagement generally means some intense and potentially career damaging post incident scrutiny. It takes both physical and moral courage, skill, and imagination for captain and crew to really turn a determined tanker. If you bluff you better be believable. If you shoot you better be right.

 Word is spreading on the Internet of a dramatic confrontation between a 20-meter (approx.65.7ft.) Libyan navy patrol boat and a 340 meter (approx. 1115 ft.) tanker attempting to enter the interdicted port of Sidra to take on an unauthorized shipment of crude oil. We have learned from reliable sources that the Patrol Boat JANZOUR was confronted by the uncooperative tanker. Despite warnings by Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan that suspect vessels entering Libyan waters of Sidra could be shot at without warning, the Captain and crew of the JANZOUR didn't immediately exercise the deadly force option. In the end they did fire small caliber warning shots and exhibited a shoulder mounted anti tank weapon that might have had serious ship stopping capability. They came close aboard so that their actions were visible to the naked eye from the navigation bridge and aggressively dogged the big ship, the Liberian flagged A WHALE forcing it to turn away from the interdicted ship without any blood shed.

 To this performance we can only say well and professionally done, three cheers for  the JANZOUR! The maritime world right now is plagued with unrest and armed tension. In the case of the oil port of Sidra the Libyan Navy is handed the unwelcome job of enforcing the government's position in what appears to be a labor dispute. We know what it means to have to enforce unpopular orders. We asked the question not long ago in these pages; "the world's coast guards keeping the peace or preparing the battle ground?". The performance of the JANZOUR demonstrated professionalism in a traditional coast guard role. This gives some hope that the Libyan Navy which once attacked a U.S. Coast Guard LORAN station on an island off of Italy, and attempted to enforce a "Zone of Death" declared by a dictator across international waters might be evolving into a force capable of keeping the maritime peace in Libyan waters in a manner that the world will see as honorable and reliable. The crew of the JANZOUR enforced a probably ill considered and unpopular policy demonstrating civilian control of the military, but did not take the easy way out and immediately resort to the deadly force apparently authorized by the civilian government. They demonstrated some of the skill, and moral courage required of serious professional coast guard type forces by whatever name they are known in these troubled time.

 We don't know what the present Libyan regime thinks of their performance. The professional maritime/ naval world thinks it was spot on for the circumstances. We hope the Libyan regime recognizes that the JANZOUR just bought them some credibility and recognizes the Captain and crew in a positive way. We wonder if the regime even thought about the consequences of firing into a foreign registered merchant ship? Apparently the Captain of the JANZOUR who was on scene and tasked both with the no nonsense enforcement of his nation's soverignity, and adherence to international law, a law his civilian over lords apparently don't quite fully understand, knew how to make professional and ethical choices. He managed to both turn the giant tanker, and not shed any blood. Right now the JANZOUR shines. Will the powers that be in the new Libya let that naval light shine through and spread? Will they have the confidence to say to their naval officers..."enforce" (this or that edict) to the maximum extent possible in conformance with international law . and not punish them when they sacrifice edict enforcement to international legal requirements in a specific instance?

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