The suicide bombing attack in the Persian Gulf on Saturday has claimed the first Coast Guardsman killed in action since the Vietnam War.
The guardsmen and two sailors died after a blast from an explosives-laden dhow flipped their inflatable boat.
They were part of a seven-member boarding team from the USS Firebolt, a Norfolk, Va.-based patrol coastal ship, a Department of Defense official said on condition of anonymity. The victims’ names had not been released, although Newsday identified the guardsman as Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal, 24, of Dania Beach, Fla. He died Sunday.
Three other sailors and a Coast Guardsman are in stable condition at a military hospital in Kuwait, said Cmdr. Jamie Graybeal, spokesman for 5th Fleet headquarters in Manama, Bahrain.
The sailors were with the Norfolk-based Patrol Craft 10, and the guardsmen were with the Miami-based Law Enforcement Detachment 403, the DOD official said.
The incident occurred after Firebolt personnel observed a small boat called a dhow approaching the Iraqi Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal, about 13 miles from Iraq. The Firebolt dispatched the boarding team in a rigid-hull inflatable boat to meet the dhow, which exploded at about 6 p.m. as they approached.
A Seahawk helicopter and inflatable boat from the HMAS Stuart, an Australian frigate, rescued the team.
About 20 minutes after the explosion, two speedboats advanced on the Al Basra Oil Terminal, about six miles south of the other terminal, and exploded as Iraqi security teams protected the terminal with small-arms fire.
Military personnel and Department of Defense civilians from the 5th Fleet are gathering evidence at the oil terminals. Graybeal said he had no information on who’s suspected in the attacks.
Coalition forces operate daily maritime-interception operations to protect the terminals under Operation Iraqi Freedom. Graybeal said coalition forces made 3,200 boardings in 2003 and have made more than 450 boardings this year 2004.
“We are conducting these operations to provide for maritime security and law enforcement operations in Iraqi territorial waters,” Graybeal said.
“The fact that these attacks were relatively unsuccessful is a good indication that we’re committed to that mission,” he said, referring to the minimal damage the oil terminals sustained.
The electrical generators at the Al-Basra Oil Terminal were slightly damaged, temporarily halting production and costing Iraq about $40 million in lost revenues after the country suspended petroleum exports, according to the Associated Press.
The coalition forces include about 300 Coast Guardsmen based in the Persian Gulf, said Senior Chief Petty Officer John Moss, spokesman for Coast Guard Atlantic Area, in a phone interview from Portsmouth, Va.
He said the Coast Guard has four patrol boats in the gulf, a port security unit in Kuwait and law enforcement detachments working with the Navy to provide port and water security patrols.
Plans for a memorial service for the sailors and guardsman, possibly at Bahrain, are still being discussed.