Hospitals & Asylums
Case Concerning Oil Platforms Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America 6 November 2003 No. 90
25. Two specific attacks on shipping are of particular relevance in this case. On 16 October 1987, the Kuwaiti tanker Sea Isle City, reflagged to the United States, was hit by a missile near Kuwait harbour. The United States attributed this attack to Iran, and three days later, on 19 October 1987, it attacked Iranian offshore oil production installations, claiming to be acting in self-defence. United States naval forces launched an attack against the Reshadat [“Rostam”] and Resalat [“Rakhsh”] complexes; the R-7 and R-4 platforms belonging to the Reshadat complex were destroyed in the attack. On 14 April 1988, the warship USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine in international waters near Bahrain while returning from an escort mission; four days later the United States, again asserting the right of self-defence, employed its naval forces to attack and destroy simultaneously the Nasr [“Sirri”] and Salman [“Sassan”] complexes.
26. These attacks by United States forces on the Iranian oil platforms are claimed by Iran to constitute breaches of the 1955 Treaty; and the attacks on the Sea Isle City and the USS Samuel B. Roberts were invoked in support of the United States’ claim to act in self-defence. The counter-claim of the United States is however not limited to those attacks; according to the
United States, Iran was in breach of its obligations under Article X, paragraph 1, of the 1955 Treaty, “in attacking vessels in the Gulf with mines and missiles and otherwise engaging in military actions that were dangerous and detrimental to commerce and navigation between the territories of the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran”. According to the United States,
Iran conducted an aggressive policy and was responsible for more than 200 attacks against neutral shipping in international waters and the territorial seas of Persian Gulf States. Iran denies responsibility for those attacks, suggesting that they were committed by Iraq and drawing attention to Iraq’s interest in internationalizing the conflict. Furthermore, Iran claims that the attitude of the Iranian authorities and the measures taken by its naval forces in the Persian Gulf were solely defensive in nature. It has emphasized that Iraq was the aggressor State in the conflict, and has claimed that Iraq received diplomatic, political, economic and military support from a number of third countries that were not formally parties to the conflict, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
46. The first installation attacked, on 19 October 1987, was the Reshadat complex, which consisted of three drilling and production platforms ¾ R-3, R-4 and R-7 ¾ linked to a total of 27 oil wells. The crude oil produced by the R-3 platform was transported by submarine pipeline to the R-4 platform and thence, together with the crude oil produced by R-4, to the R-7 platform that accommodated both production facilities and living quarters. This latter platform was also connected by submarine pipeline to another complex, named Resalat, which consisted of three linked drilling and production platforms, referred to as R-1. All the crude oil produced at the Reshadat and Resalat complexes, after gas and water separation, was transported by undersea pipeline from the R-7 platform to Lavan Island. At the time of the United States attacks, these
complexes were not producing oil due to damage inflicted by prior Iraqi attacks in October 1986, July 1987 and August 1987. Iran has maintained that repair work on the platforms was close to completion in October 1987.
47. On 19 October 1987, four destroyers of the United States Navy, together with naval support craft and aircraft, approached the Reshadat R-7 platform. Iranian personnel was warned by the United States forces via radio of the imminent attack and abandoned the facility. The United States forces then opened fire on the platform; a unit later boarded and searched it, and placed and detonated explosive charges on the remaining structure. The United States ships then proceeded to the R-4 platform, which was being evacuated; according to a report of a Pentagon spokesman, cited in the press and not denied by the United States, the attack on the R-4 platform had not been included in the original plan, but it was seen as a “target of opportunity”. After having conducted reconnaissance fire and then having boarded and searched the platform, the United States forces placed and detonated explosive charges on this second installation. As a result of the attack, the R-7 platform was almost completely destroyed and the R-4 platform was severely damaged. While the attack was made solely on the Reshadat complex, it affected also the operation of the Resalat complex. Iran states that production from the Reshadat and Resalat complexes was interrupted for several years.
48. The nature of this attack, and its alleged justification, was presented by the United States to the United Nations Security Council in the following terms (letter from the United States Permanent Representative of 19 October 1987, S/19219):
“In accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, I wish, on behalf of my Government, to report that United States forces have exercised the inherent right of self-defence under international law by taking defensive action in
response to attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran against United States vessels in the Persian Gulf. At approximately 11 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on 16 October 1987, a Silkworm missile fired by Iranian forces from Iranian-occupied Iraqi territory struck the Sea Isle City, a United States flag vessel, in the territorial waters of Kuwait. This is the latest in a series of such missile attacks against United States flag and other non-belligerent vessels in Kuwaiti waters in pursuit of peaceful commerce. These actions are, moreover, only the latest in a series of unlawful armed attacks by Iranian forces against the United States, including laying mines in international waters for the purpose of sinking or damaging United States flag ships, and firing on United States aircraft without provocation. At approximately 7 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on 19 October 1987, United States naval vessels destroyed the Iranian military ocean platform at Rashadat [sic] (also known as Rostam) in international waters of the Persian Gulf. The military forces stationed on this platform have engaged in a variety of actions directed against United States flag and other non-belligerent vessels and aircraft. They have monitored the movements of United States convoys by radar and other means; co-ordinated minelaying in the path of our convoys; assisted small-boat attacks against other non-belligerent shipping; and fired at United States military helicopters, as occurred on 8 October 1987. Prior warning was given to permit the evacuation of the platform.”
50. Iran has denied any responsibility for (in particular) the attack on the Sea Isle City, and has claimed that the platforms had no military purpose, and were not engaged in any military activity.
61. In short, the Court has examined with great care the evidence and arguments presented on each side, and finds that the evidence indicative of Iranian responsibility for the attack on the Sea Isle City is not sufficient to support the contentions of the United States. The conclusion to which the Court has come on this aspect of the case is thus that the burden of proof of the existence of an armed attack by Iran on the United States, in the form of the missile attack on the Sea Isle City, has not been discharged.
65. The second occasion on which Iranian oil installations were attacked was on 18 April 1988, with the action against the Salman and Nasr complexes. The Salman offshore oil complex consisted of seven interconnected platforms, including one drilling and two production platforms. Oil extracted from 21 wells was transported by submarine pipeline to this complex, and then on to Lavan Island after initial water and gas separation. This complex had been attacked by Iraq in October and November 1986, and was still undergoing repairs in April 1988; by that time, according to Iran, the works were “virtually completed”, but the United States questions this. The Nasr complex comprised one central platform, one flaring point, and six oil producing platforms grouped around the central platform, served by 44 wells in the Sirri field and four wells in the Nosrat field. Crude oil from all these wells was transported by submarine pipeline to the central platform, and from there to Sirri Island. This complex was functioning normally in April 1988.
66. United States naval forces attacked the Salman and Nasr complexes on 18 April 1988. Two destroyers and a supply ship were involved in the attack on the Salman complex: shortly before 8 a.m., local time, the United States forces warned the personnel on the platforms that the attack was due to begin; some of them began to evacuate the installation, while others opened fire. A few minutes later, shelling on the complex commenced from United States ships, warplanes and helicopters. United States forces then boarded some of the platforms (but not that containing the control centre), and placed and detonated explosives. Iran states that the attack caused severe damage to the production facilities of the platforms, and that the activities of the Salman complex were totally interrupted for four years, its regular production being resumed only in September 1992, and reaching a normal level in 1993. The central platform of the Nasr complex was attacked at around 8.15 a.m. by three United States warships and a number of helicopters. After having been warned of the imminent military action, Iranian personnel evacuated the platform. The United States forces bombarded the installation and almost completely destroyed it; the platform was not boarded, since it was considered unsafe due to secondary explosions and fire. According to Iranian accounts, activities in the whole Nasr complex (including oil production and water injection) were interrupted as a consequence of the attack and did not resume until nearly four years later.
67. The nature of the attacks on the Salman and Nasr complexes, and their alleged justification, was presented by the United States to the United Nations Security Council in the following terms (letter from the United States Permanent Representative of 18 April 1988, S/19791):
“In accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, I wish, on behalf of my Government, to report that United States forces have exercised their inherent right of self-defence under international law by taking defensive action in
response to an attack by the Islamic Republic of Iran against a United States naval vessel in international waters of the Persian Gulf. The actions taken are necessary and are proportionate to the threat posed by such hostile Iranian actions. At approximately 1010 Eastern Daylight Time on 14 April the USS Samuel B. Roberts was struck by a mine approximately 60 miles east of Bahrain, in international waters. Ten U.S. sailors were injured, one seriously, and the ship was damaged. The mine which struck the Roberts was one of at least four mines laid in this area. The United States has subsequently identified the mines by type, and we have conclusive evidence that these mines were manufactured recently in Iran. The mines were laid in shipping lanes known by Iran to be used by U.S. vessels, and intended by them to damage or sink such vessels. This is but the latest in a series of offensive attacks and provocations Iranian naval forces have taken against neutral shipping in the international waters of the Persian Gulf. Through diplomatic channels, the United States has informed the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran on four separate occasions, most recently 19 October 1987, that the United States would not accept Iran’s minelaying in international waters or in the waters of neutral States. In October, my Government indicated that the United States did not seek a military confrontation with Iran, but that it would take appropriate defensive measures against such hostile actions.
93. On 29 October 1987 United States Executive Order 12613 was issued, which put an end to imports of Iranian crude oil into the United States. Iran has not brought evidence to show that, if no attack had been made on the Reshadat platforms, production from them would have been an element of “commerce” between the two States before all direct commerce was halted by that Executive Order, and the Court cannot regard that point as established.
125. The Court Finds by fifteen votes to one that the actions of the United States of America against Iranian oil platforms on 19 October 1987 and 18 April 1988 cannot be justified as measures necessary to protect the essential security interests of the United States of America under Article XX, paragraph 1 (d), of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights between the United States of America and Iran, as interpreted in the light of international law on the use of force; finds further that the Court cannot however uphold the submission of the Islamic Republic of Iran that those actions constitute a breach of the obligations of the United States of America under Article X, paragraph 1, of that Treaty, regarding freedom of commerce between the territories of the parties, and that, accordingly, the claim of the Islamic Republic of Iran for reparation also cannot be upheld.
Finds by fifteen votes to one that the counter-claim of the United States of America concerning the breach of the obligations of the Islamic Republic of Iran under Article X, paragraph 1, of the above-mentioned 1955 Treaty, regarding freedom of commerce and navigation between the territories of the parties, cannot be upheld; and accordingly, that the counter-claim of the United States of America for reparation also cannot be upheld.