Kuwaiti tankers reflagged under U.S. colors will also get new names, officials said yesterday, with maritime monikers including Surf City, Ocean City and Sea Isle City -- all borrowed from resort towns in New Jersey.
The plan to rechristen the Persian Gulf ships with the seashore names prompted one Garden State lawmaker, Rep. William J. Hughes (D), to tell colleagues, "All of a sudden, the Kuwaiti fleet reads like a road map of southern New Jersey."
The Reagan administration has proposed reflagging 11 oil tankers to protect them from attack in the Iran-Iraq war. The policy, which may also include U.S. Navy escorts, has drawn congressional criticism.
Under the plan, four of the reflagged tankers will get New Jersey names, according to a House report. They'll shift from Arabic names such as Al Rekkah and Casbah to Surf City, Ocean City, Sea Isle City and Bridgeton.
Other tankers are proposed to become the Chesapeake City, Middleton, Townsend, Gas Queen, Gas Princess, Gas King and Gas Prince.
According to the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee report, ownership -- originally Kuwaiti -- would be transferred to a Dover, Del., corporation, the Chesapeake Shipping Co.
U.S. law requires any ship under the American flag to be owned by Americans, said Coast Guard spokesman Nicholas Sandifer. He said the Coast Guard is awaiting bills of sale to prove the Kuwaiti vessels have been transferred.
How the new names were chosen remains a mystery. Gene Miller, the Washington-based lawyer for Chesapeake Shipping, said he is unsure who proposed them.
Sandifer of the Coast Guard said the ships' new owner has no legal obligation to change the names.
Hughes said he has been unable to find out why the New Jersey names were picked.
"I don't mind the added publicity, and I'm sure our communities won't either," he said. But he wondered if the publicity might turn sour -- the same risk some members of Congress have noted with the Persian Gulf policy.