Operation SPONGE

International Information

International Operation Name: Operation SPONGE

International Mission Name: Operation SPONGE

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name: Middle East

Location: Iraq

Mission Date: 11 February 1991 - 17 February 1991

Mandate: To deliver equipment and supplies required to assist government and private organizations in cleaning up the oil spill caused by Iraqi destruction of wells and oil terminals during the Gulf War.

Mission/Operation Notes: On 17 January 1991, the Allied Coalition began their air attacks against Iraqi targets. In response, Iraq began dynamiting the offshore oil wells of the Kuwait Oil Company and, two days later began releasing oil from offshore terminals. Loaded oil tankers were also pre-positioned so that the oil could flow across the expected lines of approach of the United States Marines. The aim was to set the Gulf aflame.

The result was a massive oil flow, the largest spill ever seen, which threatened valuable wildlife sanctuaries and sensitive ecological zones along a 300-km stretch of coast. Water desalinization plants, crucial to the people of the Western Gulf, were also threatened with contamination. Companies specializing in oil spill clean-up started arriving, but more needed to be done.

On 27 January, DND received a request to prepare a briefing on the oil spill for a meeting of the Government Planning Committee. A combined military-civilian group departed Trenton on 2 February for Saudi Arabia, returning on 13 February. They recommended that Canada support initiatives from various government departments and private agencies in helping to clean the spill. The government supported this recommendation.

Much of the Canadian equipment and supplies were sent by CF aircraft from Trenton and Lahr on regularly scheduled flights. Between 11 and 13 February, eight CC-130 Hercules flights transported some large and heavy Canadian Coast Guard equipment. During the same period, West Germany asked for Canadian assistance in moving large equipment to Bahrain. Subsequently, CF Hercules moved 20,000 feet of booms and two ten-ton GT-185 oil skimmers to Manamah, Bahrain on 16 and 17 February.

Although Canada was considering continued support to Op SPONGE, by the end of the Gulf War an international clean-up plan was firmly in place. The rapid intervention had lessened the damage to marine life.

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