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Tuesday, 7 August, 2001, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
Gulf oil spill threatens Saudi Arabia
The Georgios
The Georgios had been intercepted three times before
A team of Iranian environmental workers has begun trying to contain an oil spill from an Iraqi ship which has sunk in the northern Persian Gulf.

The Honduran-flagged vessel was trying to smuggle oil from Iraq and sank while being pursued by the US Navy, according to a regional marine organisation.

The ship has sunk to the bottom of Gulf waters and is still leaking oil

Captain Abdul Munim al-Janah, MEMAC
The Bahrain-based Marine Emergency Mutual Centre (MEMAC) says the five-kilometre (three-mile) wide oil slick could hit Iran's Cyrus oilfield or reach the Saudi Arabian coast within three weeks.

The US Navy, which leads multinational patrols in the Gulf enforcing United Nations sanctions against Iraq, said the Georgios, which had been intercepted three times in the past, was carrying nearly 1,900 tons of Iraqi crude oil.

"The ship has sunk to the bottom of Gulf waters and is still leaking oil. The leakage is very slow," MEMAC spokesman Captain Abdul Munim al-Janahi told French news agency AFP.

Captain al-Janahi said Iran had carried out an aerial surveillance of the area where the ship sank, about 188 kilometres (75 nautical miles) off the island of Khark, and had sent two flat-top barges there.

The oil slick is spreading along the coast of the UAE
MEMAC said the main problem was that the Georgios was a cargo ship and was not designed to carry any liquids or fuel.

The ship's owners have claimed the Georgios was sunk by the US Navy, but the Americans have denied responsibility.

"We don't know how it sank. It was too fast to tell, but the ship was in very poor condition," Commander Jeff Alderson of the US Fifth Fleet told AFP.

Iraq often tries to break the UN embargo, imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, by using aged vessels to smuggle crude oil.

See also:

06 Aug 01 | Middle East
Tanker sinks off Kuwait
16 Apr 01 | Middle East
Gulf tanker spill 'under control'
26 Feb 01 | Middle East
Powell aims to plug Iraqi oil flow
30 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iran proposes anti-pollution force
23 Jan 01 | Americas
Spotlight on oil transport risks
22 Nov 00 | Middle East
Iraq denies oil exports to Syria
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