24 October 2006
US NAVY DECLARE WAR ON CLYDE FERRY
Exclusive By Cara Page
The Daily Record
An innocent Clyde ferry, similar to one that a US Navy warship nearly decided to blow out of the water whilst full of passengers. The ferries carry passengers between the mainland and some of the many Scottish islands.
THE skipper of a tiny Clyde ferry feared his boat was going to be blown out of the water by a US warship yesterday.
The Kenilworth was sailing from Kilcreggan to Gourock when the Americans threatened to open fire.
The US ship had just set out from the nearby Faslane Royal Navy base when it radioed the warning.
A source said: "The ferry skipper was just toddling across to Gourock when he got a call on the radio.
"A departing US naval ship warned, 'Unidentified vessel approaching on my starboard side, please identify yourself. If you fail to do so, we will open fire on you with live ammunition.'"
The source added: "The skipper got a real fright and radioed him back, saying he was just a wee ferry.
"If you've got a big battleship loaded with guns bearing down on you and threatening to shoot, it's quite scary."
The incident happened at 9.40am on the first day of a massive international training exercise - Operation Neptune Warrior - off the west coast of Scotland.
The first phase involved ships and submarines fighting off simulated terrorist attacks by small boats and jetskis manned by Royal Marines.
But unknown to the US crew, the Kenilworth, owned by Clyde Marine Services, was also in the vicinity.
In addition to threatening to blow it out of the water, the US ship also ordered the Kenilworth, built 70 years ago, to give it a wide berth of 1000 yards.
The shaken skipper put as much space between him and the warship as he could in a 10-minute crossing.
The messages were broadcast on VHF channel 16, which is the international calling and distress frequency.
Naval operations normally take place on secure channels which other maritime traffic cannot listen in to.
The source said: "A warning like that should not be broadcast on Channel 16 unless it is a real situation."
The ferry, carrying around a dozen passengers, arrived safely in Gourock before continuing its timetable.
A spokeswoman at Faslane confirmed the incident but said it was unclear who had been threatened.
She said six ships left the Clyde, including a US destroyer and frigate.
She said: "One of the US ships challenged a vessel to identify itself and its intentions and used channel 16 correctly for navigational safety reasons.
The ferry identified itself and was requested to keep a 1000-yard clearance which it complied with.
"The warship then issued a warning, threatening to take action. But it's unclear who they were trying to identify, as there were a number of ships nearby.
"The ferry heard this and identified itself. But channel 16 was wrongly used.
It should have been on an excercise frequency."
But she insisted: "There was absolutely no danger to the ferry or its passengers."
She said Commander Don Chalmers, the deputy director of the Joint Maritime Operational Training Staff, who organised the excercise, had apologised to the skipper.
She added: "All participants have been briefed on the correct procedures, to make sure it doesn't happen again."
A spokesman for the Clyde Coastguard said: "We are reviewing the incident and looking at radio logs."
The American military has always been trigger-happy and clumsy.
What was that rhyme that went around during World War II? It went something like this:
"When the English shoot the Germans duck.
When the Germans shoot the English duck.
When the Americans shoot everyone ducks."