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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK
US to help tanker explosion probe
The burning Limburg
There is still confusion as to the cause of the blast
The United States is sending a team to Yemen to investigate the explosion aboard a French tanker off the Yemeni coast.

Latest reports suggest the fire aboard the Limburg is now out, but the vessel is still disabled and leaking oil.

The owners of the French-flagged tanker believe the boat was the target of a terrorist attack - rammed by a speedboat packed with explosives.

The French authorities have already despatched their own experts to investigate the explosion, which the Yemeni Government says was an accident.

map
The BBC's Pentagon correspondent Nick Childs said that a senior US State Department official backed the Yemeni version of events, saying it was probably an accident too.

But the official in Washington stressed it was too early yet to reach a definite conclusion.

Al-Qaeda threat

Our correspondent says the Americans take very seriously the possibility of attacks on shipping by al-Qaeda or other groups.

A US naval ship, the USS Cole, fell victim to such an attack - blamed on al-Qaeda terrorists - in 2000 at the Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen US sailors were killed.

The American team from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is being sent according to US defence officials, at the request of the Yemeni Government.

The Limburg
Double-hulled
Diesel-powered
New price $81m
299,365 deadweight tonnes
Carrying 397,000 barrels of crude oil
Chartered by Malaysian state oil company Petronas

The BBC's Heba Saleh says the Yemeni Government has been keen to shed its country's image as a safe haven for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda militants, who have been blamed for the 11 September terrorist attacks.

The team from Bahrain is said to be expert in post-blast and forensic investigation.

Journalists taken by Yemeni officials to look at the Limburg report a metre-wide hole, with tangled metal pointed outward, suggesting an on-board blast.

Investigation

Yemen has launched its own investigation into the Limburg blast, and says it will co-operate with French investigators who are on their way to the scene.

Hole in the hull of USS Cole after attack in port of Aden
The USS Cole attack was blamed on al-Qaeda

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the probe "will find out exactly what happened" and stressed that "no possibility is ruled out".

Two groups of French experts are to take part in the inquiry - agents from France's counterintelligence service, the Territorial Surveillance Directorate or DS, and another team, made up of transport ministry investigators.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Emily Buchanan
"If the latest incident was carried out by terrorists security will have to be substantially increased"
The BBC's Louise Bevan
"This evening the French tanker is still adrift"
Captain Peter Raes from the ship's owners Euronav
"The officer saw a small craft heading toward the ship at relatively high speed"
See also:

07 Oct 02 | Business
21 Sep 02 | Middle East
03 Aug 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
30 Oct 00 | Middle East
06 Oct 02 | Middle East
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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