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Navy blocks Iraq oil smuggler ship

British Navy officials board the Navstar 1 Friday.
British Navy officials board the Navstar 1 Friday.

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(CNN) -- The British Navy Friday intercepted a ship off the coast of southern Iraq carrying 1,100 tons of smuggled Iraqi oil, the largest discovery so far, according to a navy spokesman.

The intercepted vessel belongs to a United Arab Emirates company based in Dubai, British Navy Cmdr. Graeme Mackay said.

The UAE vessel, Navstar 1, ignored three warnings from the HMS Sutherland to return to the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, prompting the Royal Marines to board the ship and arrest the master and crew.

Navstar 1 will be taken back to Umm Qasr, Mackay said.

The smuggled oil was collected by wooden dhows -- traditional ships used to ferry goods around the Persian Gulf -- and clandestinely put onto the Navstar 1 at the port of Umm Qasr.

Mackay said during the last two weeks since he started the operation, coalition patrols have intercepted several ships and sent them back to Iraqi ports.

He said the coalition is determined to stop the smuggling of Iraqi oil, to protect Iraq's oil reserves, and return the money to the Iraqi people.

So far, coalition naval forces have not encountered any armed resistance from the crews of the ships they have intercepted, he said.

Smuggling Iraqi oil has become a prevalent problem for coalition forces, according to Mackay.

"The word is getting around that there is illegal Iraqi oil to be smuggled, [and] it is attractive," he said.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, praised the seizure, saying it "demonstrates the commitment of the coalition forces and the Iraqi police to protecting Iraq's assets, so that they can benefit all Iraqis, rather than the criminals."

"The criminals who attempt to steal Iraq's oil, once encouraged and abetted by the former regime, will now be found and prosecuted by the coalition and Iraqis working together," Bremer added.

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