Are Iraqi "terror ships" at sea? How to handle if not UL?

From here. UK Dopers – please advise as to whether this site is reputable. A friend here in the U.S. has heard a similar report on radio news this morning, but neither of us have been able to track down other news on these “terror ships”.

I’d like to offer more of an opinion, but first off – any reason to summarily doubt the credibility of this story?

On the first question, that’s the website for the London Evening Standard, which is a pretty reputable source (although not shy of adding a little drama to every story). It’s published by Associated Newspapers, best known for the national (blustery, right-wing) Daily Mail.

ABC News also has an article on the story (originally from Reuters): Report: Ships with Suspected Iraq Arms Tracked

So it’s doesn’t appear to be an outright hoax, urban legend, or a “Reptiloids on the Trilateral Commission Control the World” sort of thing.

The Reuters/ABC story does dispute some of the details which are evidently being given (or leaked) by U.S. and British intelligence:

I can’t help but think that if these vessels are suspected of carrying Iraqi WMD’s, why don’t we have a bunch of heavily armed guys in all-black outfits sneaking up and boarding them on some nice moonless night at about 3:00 AM local time, instead of stories getting out to the press but no action? But it’s certainly an interesting story, and I would like to know more details.

Well, I can’t say much about the accuracy of the stories, but the reason I’ve seen is that the crews are obviously aware and alert to the fact they’re being shadowed, and the US military doesn’t want a bungled raid leading to NBC weapons sinking to the seabed as panicking crews scuttle the ships.

This was on BBC radio too, so I’d imagine the story’s been verified. The report said they weren’t responding to radio communications, which is against maritime law - this conflicts with the Reuters story.

Personally, were I US/UK intel, I’d wait until they run out of fuel, then board them wherever they come into get more.

Three months, huh? Is it a coincidence we’re being told about this now?

The US and UK have been bombing Iraq for 12 years now. Why would they stop short of sinking Iraqi ships, if they represent a threat of any real seriousness?

Be skeptical. Be very skeptical.

The US/UK have been bombing Iraq within the UN-approved no-fly zones, which, regardless of how one feels about the morality of the action, is within international law. Sinking Iraqi cargo ships in international waters isn’t.

According to the OP’s cite:

ISTM that as long as the weapons are stored on these ships, they can’t be used against the US and British troops who attack Iraq. So, the status quo isn’t bad.

Assuming, of course, that the ships are actually carrying WMDs.

So it’s okay to risk the purported weapons’ use on attacking troops, or civilians, but we don’t dare risk contaminating the ocean? Please.

One of the purported war objectives is to eliminate Iraq’s WMD’s. Sinking them would do the job pretty effectively.


Unleashing unknown toxins into the ocean would be about as advisable as disposing of nuclear weapons by detonating them in populated cities.

This could be a ruse by Iraq trying to force the west to illegally sink/board the ships and then turn around and show they held nothing but milk for babies. Either way, this pushes me more towards the pro-war side because, if it is WMD, Iraq has broken their word. If it’s not WMD, Iraq is playing games and trying to damage the west’s credibility in the Middle East.

What WMD wouldn’t be efectively rendered useless under 5000+ feet of water?

Nukes? There are likely already nukes on the seafloor from sunk submarines (IIRC the Russians have lost a few and I think we lost one).

Chemicals? Probably not nice for anything nearby when the tanks rupture but by the time it dilutes into a gazillion gallons of seawater I can’t imagine anything would retain any potency (besides being diluted I would assume it would be naturally broken down over time as well).

Biologic? Again I would assume dilution and weathering in the ocean would render most substances harmless before they could do much damage.

Of course I am no expert so maybe certain things could remain virulent till they reached a shoreline somewhere. Even so, I thought Navy SEALS practiced exactly this sort of thing (boarding ships underway and capturing them). I’m not suggesting it is easy or without risk but it’s something they do. Is the alternative to wait for the tings to sail into New York or Boston harbor and then inspect them?

I am absolutely amazed that anyone could suggest that sinking a ship at sea, regardless of its cargo, is in anyway equivalent to detonating a nuclear warhead over a populated area.

Yes, The Soviets and the US have both lost weapons at sea that have not been recovered.

From a webpage dedicated to the USS Scorpion (

“NUCLEAR WEAPONS: There were two Mark 45 ASTOR torpedoes with nuclear warheads aboard SCORPION when she was lost in 1968. The warheads were low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. The special nuclear material from the warheads has not been recovered.”

Elvis, you have plenty of good arguments to make. Doubt the accuracy of the report that the ships exist. Doubt the questions raised about their cargo.

But this?

Come on. IF the ships exist, and IF there is reason to question their cargo, and IF they are traceable to Iraq, it’s not like the US/UK are going to just let them land and unload. The US doesn’t risk contaminating the ocean – or violating international maritime law – because there is no present need to do so, even under the US definition of “need.” That definition may change faily, but certainly it has not been met today, and while the ships are at sea.

Both are inadvisable in that they have detrimental longterm effects:

From here:

“When exposed to sea water, mustard [gas] forms a thick outer “crust” over a core of mustard which allows it to be brought to the surface where it can injure unsuspecting fishermen”


"For years I have been concerned about how these underwater stores of chemical warfare agents may be affecting the overall health of the marine ecosystem, marine species and people. Fishermen have told me about strange lesions of the fish they catch. Lesions on cetacean species such as whales have also been observed. "

There are better ways to deal with these ships.

Given the quantities dumped at sea by the British and others after WWII there must be at least one documented case of exposure, if there is the long term persistence that you claim. Can you please provide more information documenting this, or is it entirely anecdotal?

And what would be the better way of dealing with these ships, let them sail into Boston harbor as suggested? I personally favor placing 2 or 3 Mk48 torpedoes in each. Whatever is in these ships may well cause environmental harm, yes. But can you assure me that they intend to use this material in an environmentally responsible manner?

I share your concerns about our environment, and agree that we must protect all the ecosystems, or better stated, all parts of our one ecosystem. But forgive me if my primary concern is the part immediately occupied by my family and I.

No, it would be enough simply to find out where they were planning to unload. There could be a party to greet them on the docks. Or simply board the ship at sea. say for a “safety inspection” - USCG does that routinely.

You do make a good point about not “needing” to do so at this time - but that’s true of almost every other thing the US and UK are talking about doing, or are actually doing. So be skeptical.

Sinking these ships now is far too aggressive. You can bet that these ships are being watched 24-7, and possibility already have subs on station near them. None of them are going to be allowed anywhere near land. So long as they continue circling out in the middle of the ocean, the U.S. can afford to let them continue to do so.

But I’m worried about what those ships are up to. It sure looks to me like they are on some sort of ‘station’, either waiting for a specific time or for further orders. Apparently they left port and each headed to a different area out in the ocean, where they are now circling. The question is, what are they waiting to do?

Maybe they’re just carrying Iraqi oil? Why couldn’t they be carrying Syrian or Jordanian weapons? Isn’t Jordan our ally? This sounds like more propaganda to me. The ships are real, but the purported cargo is hoax.

Why would ships filled with oil be circling out in the ocean, refusing to make radio contact with anyone?

I don’t think anyone is saying these are Jordanian weapons. The claim is that Iraq may have smuggled their own weapons out through ports in Jordan and Syria.