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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK
Yemen tanker blast still a puzzle
The burning Limburg
Starkly different reasons are given for the blast

There is still no clear indication, more than a day after the blast which ripped a hole in the hull of the French supertanker Limburg, whether this was a terrorist attack or an accident.


Government oficials in Yemen, where the explosion happened, say there was no sabotage, but the firm that owns the Limburg, Euronav, believe it must have been deliberate.

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.

That would be appear to be at odds with the scenario presented by Euronav officials, who say a small boat carrying explosives rammed the ship, causing the blast on Sunday.

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 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.

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.

Flames die down

While there were reports from Yemen that the fire on board the ship was under control, but still burning, an unnamed Yemeni official told the Associated Press that the flames were now out.

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

There are concerns that oil spilled from the vessel could damage adverse affect on the Arabian coast. Several oil slicks are said to be visible from Yemen.

But Marc Saverys, chief executive of Euronav's parent company, CMB, says the spillage is insignificant, and that the ship was not leaking oil at the moment.

The tanker had about 400,000 barrels on board in three tanks, only one of which has been damaged - and most of the oil from that one burned out before forming runaway slicks, Mr Saverys told BBC News Online.

One member of the 25-member crew - a Bulgarian - was reported missing after the blast on Sunday.

Last month, the US Navy warned of possible attacks on oil tankers in Gulf waters by al-Qaeda.

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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