National Geographic : 1988 May
The Persian Gulf By THOMAS J. ABERCROMBIE Photographs by STEVE RAYMER NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SENIOR WRITER NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER HROUGH THE COOL DAWN, brief Base. From here radar and patrol boats armed respite between night's starry black- with French Exocet missiles monitor the 24 ness and the scorching day, we head- mile gap between the Arabian Peninsula and ed across the turquoise waters of the Iran. Each day dozens of suprtankers steam Persian Gulf. From the fleet of bobbing dhows through this funnel to the strategic Persian turbaned fishermen, piling nets and wire Gulf basin, source of half the world's oil. traps, paused to wave their salaams. Behind When Baghdad spread the Iran-Iraq war into us, streaming down from the jagged cliffs that the gulf with attacks on Iran's oil ports, Iran walled the oasis, the sun's firstrays pierced the threatened to choke the strait. dusty palm groves to light the Arabian Nights "The Persian Gulf will be safe for all-or fortress that guards the bay. nobody," Iran's speaker of parliament, Ha In bright paisley headcloth and long blue shemi Rafsanjani, had warned. caftan, his dark eyes sparkling above a thick The United States and other nations de black mustache, our barefoot captain could ployed naval escorts andminesweepers to pro have passed for Sindbad himself, except.... tect shipping-but by late last year air raids He glanced at the chartreuse sweep of his ra- and gunboats were hitting an average of a ship darscope, then eased throttles forward to eight a day in these waters. knots and set his boxy 120-ton tanker on a "Insurance rates have skyrocketed since course of 030°, out into the Strait of Hormuz. the tanker war heated up last fall," Capt. John The Khasb-named for its home port, Wallwork told me, just down the coast in the capital of Musandam province, Oman's Sharjah. The tall Lancashireman runs a flo northern outpost on the strait-is one of three tilla of supply ships through the lower gulf's landing craft converted by the Musandam De- dangerous Silkworm Alley for InterMarine, a velopment Committee to ferry drinking water Texas-based company. "Surcharges can to thirsty villages along the hidden inlets of the reach a thousand dollars a day for large tank rocky peninsula. er. North of 27 latitude our crews now draw "We stay well inside the heavy steamer traf- double pay. fic," said Capt. Saif Ahmad Saif al-Shahi, a "Iraqi planes hit our Big Orange XIV near 15-year gulf veteran. As the mate poured us the Ras al Mutaf lightship, killing the captain cardamom-spiced coffee from a thermos, I and one crewman," he said, pointing out the counted on the horizon five giant tankers site on a wall-size blue-and-yellow sea chart. steaming a parallel course northeastward 12 On it he had inked (Continued on page 656) miles out. Closer in, a lateen sail marked a l'large wooden hw ploddin south. large wooden dhow plodding south. DOOMED by attackfrom Iraniangunboats From Karachi r Bombay, the captain ast December, theSingaporeantanker Nor concluded, scanning it with binoculars. "Gulf man Alantic burns after loading in Kuwait. We threaded the khawr, or inlet, between but the Japan-boundship exploded and sank, the mainland and Oman's Goat Island Naval astensionsintensified in thePersianGulf FABRICEMOUSSUS,ABCNEWS 648 i: . *.*'i*** '"''* "'* * * : " . '.* ' *.* ::: ,*' : ,'