The Israeli boats are similar to this non-military version made by Safe Boats International. (Safe Boats International)
TEL AVIV — The Israel Navy is restricting use of a US-built, rigid-hulled, inflatable boat pending an investigation of technical and operational conditions that caused one of the small craft to capsize last week off the coast of Gaza.
The Israeli military said the speedboat, built by Bremerton, Wash.,-based Safe Boats International, was carrying five crew members when it overturned during “a routine naval patrol along the border with Gaza.”
All crew members were safely evacuated and the boat was towed to a nearby port. Vice Adm. Ram Rothberg is restricting the entire fleet from operational deployment pending results of the investigation.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not specify whether technical glitches, operational errors or a combination were suspected in the Jan. 20 incident or when the investigation would conclude.
Amir Bohbot, a reporter from Israel’s Walla online news agency who witnessed the event, said the boat took on water after performing a sharp turn some 1.5 kilometers offshore, forcing all five crew members to jump ship.
Initially deployed in 2005, Israel’s fleet of at least six Tzir’a (Wasp) boats are used primarily in a Coast Guard role, defending ports, identifying threats from small craft sailing close to shore, and patrolling the perimeter between Israel’s southern sea ports of Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Designed to Israel Navy specifications, the inflatable craft are also used in support of dive operations, sources here said.
Kevin Rowlee, marketing director at Safe Boats, was unavailable for comment Jan. 27.
The company’s website describes the Israeli customized boats as “Israel Navy Tactical Dive Team” vessels. A retired Navy officer said they are lightly armed, but fully connected to the service’s command-and-control network. ■