Friday, October 9, 2009

Second of four Offshore-Patrol Vessels Delivered to Iraq

Yesterday, Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri delivered the second of four patrol vessels, christened “Nasir”, to the Iraqi Navy, becoming an important part of the rebuild of the service which has been entirely annihilated by the past wars. “Nasir” (meaning “Victory”) is a SAETTIA MK4 class vessel with a design based upon the DICIOTTI class vessels in service with the Italian Coast Guard and the Maltese Navy. The official ceremony at the company’s shipyard in Muggiano (La Spezia) was attended by General Saleh Sarhan, Iraqi Secretary General of the Department of Defense and Admiral Dino Nascetti, Director General Naval Armaments of the Italian Navy.

The contract for these vessels, worth a total of €80 million, was signed in February 2006 after the Navy cancelled the original plan to buy two Fincantieri-built Assad-class corvettes from the Italian Navy, which had been found to be in a worse state than originally believed.

The Offshore Patrol Vessel is urgently needed as the Iraqi Navy is responsible for patrolling its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) representing 58 kilometres of Iraqi coastline. Therefore, Nasir will immediately undergo its journey, which will last about a month - escorted by the Italian and US Navy - to the Persian Gulf.

Manned with a crew of 38, the 53.40-metre-long, 8-metre-wide vessels can reach speeds of 23 knots and enable the Iraqi Navy to complete operations such as research and salvage, maritime traffic controls and fire-fighting. Besides the SAETTA MK4 vessels, the Iraqi fleet consists of 26 Predator Class patrol boats, ten rigid inflatable boats, two offshore patrol vessels and ten fast-attack boats.

For the SAETTIA MK4 class vessels, Fincantieri also has the responsibility of the ship systems and components, such as the propulsion (Isotta Fraschini 2360 kW engines V1716T2MSD, shafts and variable pitch propellers), generation (Isotta Fraschini 220 kW generators L1306T3ME) and stabilising systems.

The contract also includes provisions for logistical support and crew training with each crew completing a seven week training course. Additionally, in cooperation with the Italian Navy, there will be one week’s course held on a bridge simulator at the Academy of Leghorn.

Iraqi Navy is crucial for economic and national security

Upon arrival, Nasir will join her sister vessel “Fateh”, delivered in May, in undertaking surveillance of the EEZ, rich in oil reserves and considered the country’s most important economic resource. Having been the world’s 13th largest oil producer in 2008 (with the world’s third largest proven petroleum reserves) and most of the exported oil being transported by sea, the protection and surveillance of the coastal sea lanes and oil platforms, 80 kilometres off the port of Umm Qasr, is of great interest to the country.

Earlier this year, British Royal Navy Capt. Nick Hine said that developing a professional naval force capable of various maritime duties is essential to safeguarding the flow of oil from Iraq. Hine directs the Coalition Naval Advisor and Training Team, part of the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.

The Iraqi Navy must continue to grow to fulfil its mission independently, Hine emphasised. At its current level of 1,974 people, its size is on par with the Iraqi Air Force. However, the service is expected to grow to 3,000 soldiers by the end of 2010.

Capabilities in areas such as intelligence, engineering and construction support are necessary for full, independent operational sustainability and are being developed with coalition assistance, but at present are “very much in the embryonic stage,” Hine said. Developing those capabilities will be a priority in 2009 and 2010, he explained.

Trying to reform from the ashes

The Iraqi Navy is currently being rebuilt after all vessels of the Saddam-era were destroyed in the Gulf Wars. A UPI report of early September suggests, that further Iraqi naval equipment of the Saddam-era may not have been destroyed but, rather, is mooring in foreign ports. According to this report, Iraq's Ministry of Defence has also located two navy vessels in Egypt and two others in Italy (only part of the missing equipment which reportedly has also been found in Serbia, Russia and France). So far it is not clear whether delegations would be sent to those countries to retrieve the Iraqi assets and if these still are in any shape to resume service. Particularly the finding of 19 MIG-21 and MIG-23 jet fighters, sent for repair to Serbia two decades ago, was quite surprising.

The service also lacks any aviation capability. Although Baghdad has plans to deliver both a maritime surveillance capability and a support helicopter capability, currently none of those plans have gone beyond the requirements stage.


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