Gulf ships on alert over al-Qaeda threat
THE Royal Navy has warned merchant ships in the Gulf to be on their guard after an al-Qaeda threat to target oil terminals in the area.
Coalition naval forces in the area have been put on watch for possible terror threats to oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, officials said.
A Royal Navy official said the threat had resulted in increased security and vigilance at Saudi Arabia's Ras Tanura terminal, as well as at a refinery in Bahrain. But oil exports were proceeding as normal, he said.
The Royal Navy, part of the Italian-led Coalition Task Force 152 that patrols international waters off the Ras Tanura terminal, sent an e-mail yesterday warning merchant shipping in the region of Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia to be alert for suspicious vessels or activity.
The US navy's 5th fleet, based in Bahrain, said it was aware of the British warning.
"We support the recommendation that commercial mariners be especially vigilant while transiting the Gulf," Lieutenant Charles Brown said.
"Coalition forces are taking prudent, precautionary measures and focusing maritime security operations in the Gulf on these possible [al-Qaeda] threats."
He added: "These operations are nothing new. Coalition maritime forces routinely conduct maritime security operations in the Gulf."
The British official said coalition ships were sticking to international waters and had not been invited to patrol inside Saudi Arabia's territorial waters near the terminal.
"The Saudis are very protective of their patch," the British official in Dubai said. He described the patrols as normal naval operations that had been under way since 2002, though on a heightened state of alert for the past month.
Ras Tanura, just north of the Saudi oil capital, Dhahran, is the world's largest offshore oil loading facility, with a capacity of six million barrels per day.
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