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Iran buys Bradstone Challenger - but why?

  • Wed, 7 Apr 2010

US authorities concerned that Iran could turn the round-Britain record holder into a fast-attack craft

Bradstone Challenger

The boat that holds the record for the fastest circumnavigation of Britain could be turned into a warship after being acquired by Iran, intelligence sources have warned.

The Bradstone Challenger, a Bladerunner 51, shot to fame in 2005 by rounding Britain in just over 27 hours, at an average speed of 63.5mph. Its hull was built to run at high speeds in rough water.

But US authorities worry that it will serve a much more insidious purpose under its new owners, and could even threaten shipping in the Persian Gulf by being fitted with torpedoes, rocket launchers and anti-ship missiles.

The strange story of how Iran came to acquire the boat began in 2006, when the Department for Trade and Industry blocked the country's first attempt to buy it.

Iran was not deterred, and after changing hands a further two times, the US discovered the boat was due to be transferred to South Africa where it would be loaded onto a Hong Kong-flagged Iranian merchant vessel for the voyage to the Gulf.

US authorities attempted to stop the shipment and later tasked special forces with seizing the freighter it was on, but the operation was called off, according to the Financial Times.

Iran's determined acquisition of the boat is not surprising, according to Craig Hooper, a San Francisco-based naval strategist, who claims the country has been scouring the globe for speedboats with potential military uses for some time.

But he doubts whether the Bradstone Challenger poses any real threat to shipping or the US naval presence in the Gulf.

"Surprise aside (a la USS Cole), the small-boat 'record' since World War II fails to live up to modern-day hype. Certainly small boats are not things to ignore, but I have serious doubts about the risk a small boat swarm poses to a prepared US warship," he wrote in his blog.

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