Oil Tanker Catches Fire in Gulf

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MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) via NewsEdge Corporation -

A fire aboard a tanker vessel smuggling Iraqi oil was reported to be dying out Sunday after crew members abandoned ship in the Persian Gulf and were rescued by the U.S. Navy. "The fire appears to be out and the tanker's condition looks stable now and does not appear to be in any danger of sinking," said U.S. Navy spokesman Jeff Alderson. He said there was no sign of leakage.

Earlier reports on the tanker, the Honduran-flagged Khalid 1, had said the fire threatened to capsize or sink the vessel, which was in poor condition.

Alderson said the fire began in the crew's sleeping quarters on Saturday night but did not reach the ship's cargo - 5,800 tons of Iraqi fuel oil. He could not explain how the fire died out, but said the Iraqi captain had reported it was caused by an electrical fault.

A U.S. firefighting tug would continue steaming toward the vessel, Alderson said. Iran had also dispatched a firefighting vessel. The 343-foot-long tanker was at the northern end of the Gulf, about 54 miles west of Iran and 76 miles from Kuwait, said Capt. Abdel Munem al-Janahi of the Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Center in Bahrain.

Alderson said the Khalid was caught smuggling Iraqi oil in violation of U.N. sanctions on Aug. 30th. It was boarded and diverted to a "holding area" in the northern Gulf.

The ship's Iraqi captain contacted the USS Nicholson, a U.S. destroyer, which sent out a small boat to pick up the crew - six Indians, four Filipinos and five Iraqis, including the captain. The destroyer is part of a fleet of allied ships called the Maritime Interception Force that monitors shipping in the Gulf to ensure compliance with the sanctions imposed on Iraq since its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

-- Rich Marsh (marshr@airmail.net), September 10, 2001

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