The U.S. Navy said Saturday it boarded five vessels suspected of breaking U.N. sanctions on Iraq and handcuffed "uncooperative crewmen" aboard one, an Iraqi tanker.
Three tugs intercepted Wednesday as they sailed south from Iraq were carrying 23,000 tons of gasoline and were diverted to unidentified ports for investigation, said Cmdr. T. McCreary, a Navy spokesman.Shipping sources in the gulf identified the vessels as the Master Gulf, flying the United Arab Emirates flag, the St. Vincent-flagged Tasman Bay and the Greek-owned C.E. Stephanos, which flies the Honduran flag.
Two other vessels, including the Iraqi tanker, were boarded Thursday in the same area of the Persian Gulf, about 15 miles off Iraq's coast, McCreary said. Both were allowed to continue after the tanker was found to be only carrying water.
The U.N. Security Council imposed a trade embargo on Iraq in August 1990 after President Saddam Hussein's forces invaded neighboring Kuwait.
American and allied navies enforce the embargo by patrolling the gulf and the Red Sea. Thousands of merchant vessels have been intercepted or boarded since 1990.
Before the embargo, which has crippled Iraq's economy, oil exports were the country's primary source of revenue. The recent interceptions could confirm allied suspicions that Iraq is becoming desperate to sell oil for hard cash as its funds dwindle.