Dire Straits: On the Front Lines of the Tanker War

Photographs and text by Norbert Schiller

For most correspondents and photo-journalists, covering a war is a rite of passage. It was no different for me when I began freelancing as a photographer in Egypt in the early 1980s. At the time, Cairo was a hub for many news agencies and television networks and the war stories I heard from members of the press who crisscrossed the region only strengthened my resolve to join the fold.

Associated Press photographer, Greg English (L) and I photographing a burning ship after it was attacked by an Iranian warship in the Persian Gulf. Phot. Fredrick Neema

After freelancing for a few years, I was finally hired by Agence France Presse (AFP) and my big break came in October 1987 when the agency sent me to Dubai to cover the “Tanker War.” The conflict was a byproduct of the 8-year Iran Iraq war and consisted of attacks on ships in the Persian Gulf. Initially, I thought I was going for a single month rotation to replace a colleague, but after I proved myself AFP decided to keep me there indefinitely. For the following 10 months and until the war ended in August 1988, I flew in a helicopter and photographed burning ships and convoys with military escorts as they sailed through the Gulf waters.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of my coverage of the “Tanker War,” I have created an exhibition featuring the photos I took of this conflict. The accompanying text, “Dire Straits: On the Front Lines of the Tanker War,” divided into two parts, contextualizes the images from this forgotten war, which in the public psyche has been upstaged by more recent violence that has brought greater destruction and suffering to this ever troubled region.



The Tanker War in Pictures (Part I):

Norman Atlantic Attack

The Tanker War in Pictures (Part II):

Sirri Oil Platform on Fire


On the Front Lines of the Tanker War (Part I):

Dacia Attack

On the Front Lines of the Tanker War (Part II):

Tehran Memorial

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