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Sunday, 9 September, 2001, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Oil tanker ablaze in Gulf
By Julia Wheeler in Dubai

A tanker carrying 5,700 tonnes of smuggled Iraqi crude oil is on fire in the northern Gulf.

The blaze, aboard the Honduran-registered Khaled, broke out while the ship was in international waters east of Kuwait.

oil tanker
Iraq uses old vessels to transport smuggled oil

The 15 crew members, including five Iraqis, six Indians and four Filipinos, were taken to safety aboard the US naval destroyer the USS Nicholson.

Assistance was given after the Iraqi master of the vessel sent a radio message to the US navy, saying an electrical fault had sparked a fire.

An American tug boat is on its way to the Iraqi vessel.

The Khaled was intercepted 10 days ago by the allied Maritime Interception Force that patrols Gulf waters to enforce sanctions against Iraq.

It is not clear if the fire was started deliberately

The ship was boarded and diverted to a holding area in the northern Gulf.

But the US navy says the ship was not under its control and that, technically, it is still the responsibility of its owner or captain.

It is not clear if the fire was started deliberately.

The US Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain believe the Khaled is no longer in danger of sinking and it says there is no sign of an oil spill.

Oil smugglers

This is the latest in a series of incidents involving tankers smuggling Iraqi oil.

Many of the boats used are old, in poor repair and completely unsuitable for carrying oil.

Last month, a tanker carrying 900 tonnes of crude oil sank in the Gulf and in April a similar vessel sank off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, causing one of the country's worst-ever environmental disasters.

The BBC's Julia Wheeler
"This is the latest in a series of incidents involving tankers smuggling Iraqi 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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