Thursday, December 01, 2005

More dodgy stuff at Shannon

Why is the US military shipping helium from the US to Iraq? This emerged from yet another genre of stopover at the "neutral" Republic of Ireland's Shannon airport today:

[RTE] The US Embassy has confirmed that a US military aircraft, which made an emergency landing at Shannon Airport this morning, was carrying helium gas bound for Iraq. The C-17 transport plane had to divert to Shannon airport when it developed hydraulic and brake problems. The gas is contained in 58 cylinders onboard the plane and is used to float radar balloons for the military.

There's nowhere closer than the USA to procure helium for Iraq? And what about Saddam's own much-hyped mobile weapon labs, information from the accurately named Curveball, which in fact were just machines for making hydrogen (although not helium) for balloons?

The RTE story continues

A spokesperson for the US embassy stated the cargo and flight were not in contravention of any UN resolutions.

Now why might people think that?

UPDATE: Friday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) has more:

Normally located at McChord air force base in Washington, it was en route from Kansas to an RAF base in Mildenhall in England ... After informing Air Traffic Control at Shannon of the problem, the plane circled over the sea for about two hours to burn off excess fuel before landing amid fears that the weight of the cargo on board would cause the plane to overshoot the runway ... emergency services described yesterday's incident as one of the most serious in recent times. Coast Guard services were on standby, along with gardaí, paramedics, and firefighting crews ...

the US embassy ... said the gas carried on board was used in "radar balloons of the type that have been used by law enforcement agencies in the United States for many years. "While this cargo is technically considered 'hazardous', it is non-flammable, commonly used in consumer applications [eg, birthday party balloons], and transported in accordance with international safety regulations."

The statement continued that, pursuant to UN security council resolutions, "this cargo is in transit to the multinational forces in Iraq operating at the request of the interim government of Iraq. "Its transit through Shannon airport, as is the case with all other traffic supporting the multinational forces in Iraq, is in compliance with Resolution 1546, Section 15, which calls on all UN member states 'to contribute assistance to the multinational forces, including military forces, as agreed with the government of Iraq'."

No explanation of why such an apparently generic cargo has to be shipped such a long distance.

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