KHOR FAKKAN, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, JUNE 23 -- Shipping executives say Kuwaiti and United States officials are discussing a "zero hour" for removing the Kuwaiti flag from 11 tankers and replacing it with the Stars and Stripes.
The reflagging is part of a U.S. plan to protect Kuwaiti ships from attacks by Iran and safeguard oil supplies transported through the Persian Gulf. Though officially neutral, Kuwait has had a close relationship with Iraq during the 6 1/2-year-old Iraq-Iran war.
The Kuwaiti vessels, once under the American flag, will be protected by U.S. warships.
Khor Fakkan is the major port outside the Strait of Hormuz where tankers usually stop for supplies on their way to or from the gulf.
It is off this port that U.S. warship protection will be arranged, with U.S. naval escorts picking up their charges and following them through the gulf waters, according to shipping executives.
The 401,382-ton tanker al Rekkah will henceforth be known by its American name, Bridgeton. The 294,739-ton Kazimah has become the Townsend and the 290,085-ton al Funtas is now the Middleton.
Smaller tankers ranging in capacity from 46,723 to 81,283 tons changed names from Umm al Maradem to Sea Isle City, Umm al Aish to Surf City, Umm Matrabah to Chesapeake City, Umm Casbah to Ocean City, Gas al Burgan to Gas King, Gas al Managish to Gas Prince, Gas al Ahmadi to Gas Princess, and Gas al Kuwait to Gas Queen.
At least three of these tankers -- Kazimah, Umm Casbah and al Funtas -- have already been been attacked by Iranian air and sea forces.
One shipping executive interviewed in the United Arab Emirates yesterday said that when the 11 Kuwaiti tankers are reflagged, they also "will get new official numbers, new call signs, and new carving marks -- the legend bearing the port of registration."
The American captains will be flown to their ships two days before the reflagging, shipping officials said. They spoke on condition they not be identified.
Kuwaiti ships are being increasingly singled out for attacks by Iranian gunboats and high-speed motor launches. Iranian Revolutionary Guards also have been planting mines in the approaches to Kuwait's al Ahmadi oil terminal.