CHERBOURG, France, May 3 -- Oman took delivery Wednesday of two fast patrol boats made by a Lebanese-owned French shipyard and equipped with electronic gear designed to counter Iran's naval buildup in the Gulf. The 178-foot-long (54-meter) Vigilante 400 class boats were handed over to Oman at a ceremony attended by Omani Deputy Prime Minister Sayyid Faher bin Taimur al-Said and Oman Navy Commander in Chief Shihab al-Said.
'The royal (Oman) navy is being rebuilt to take its place as the guardian of the waters of Oman and to protect international shipping in the territorial waters of Oman,' the navy commander told United Press International. A team of senior French officers led by Admiral Jacques Lanxade, chief of the French defense staff, represented France at the launching. The boats, named al-Bushra and al-Mansour, slid into the water down a slipway at the Cherbourg shipyard of the manufacturers, Constructions Mecaniques de Normandie, owned by Lebanese industrialist Iskander Safa. An identical third boat, named al-Neja, will be delivered to Oman in April 1996, shipyard officials said. The three vessels were ordered by Oman in September 1993 at a cost of more than $100 million. Safa said Oman had indicated it might order five more boats with similar specifications. Defense industry sources said the boats' configuration indicated a trend among Gulf navies toward equipping vessels to counter a naval buildup by their northern neighbor, Iran. The boats will be fitted with 76mm OTO Melara Super Rapid cannon and ATAS anti-submarine sonar detection systems. 'This is in response to what we believe Iranian navy is doing by equipping its vessels with sonar equipment,' one industry source said.