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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Investigators to board Yemen tanker
Limburg off Yemen
The fire is out but oil continues to leak
French and Yemeni investigators are due to inspect the Limburg oil tanker, which was hit by an explosion on Sunday off the south-east coast of Yemen.

Their inspection aims to establish whether the blast was accidental or deliberate.

The crew of the French-owned ship say they believe it was rammed by a small craft packed with explosives.

But the head of the Yemeni investigation, Minister of Sea Transport, Said Yafaai, on Tuesday said the Limburg's captain was "irresponsible" to suggest a terrorist act.

Yemen has been trying to shed its image as a haven for terrorists since a suicide attack on the USS Cole warship two years ago killed 17 American servicemen.

Open minds

Four investigators from the French Ministry of Transport arrived in Yemen on Tuesday, to start the joint investigation.

Limburg hull
A hole was punctured in the side of the Limburg
"For the moment, we don't have the elements that would enable us to say if it was an attack or an accident. Only after taking a close look at the damage will we be able to give more weight to one theory or another," said one of them, Daniel Drevet as he prepared to go on board on Wednesday.

Agents from France's counterintelligence service, the Territorial Surveillance Directorate or DS, are also being sent to investigate.

American counter-terrorism experts are also carrying out inquiries.

"Obviously everyone is concerned about what happened but it is too early to speculate whether it was an accident or an act of terrorism," said US co-ordinator Francis Taylor.

Captain blames attack

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

However, a Reuters correspondent saw an oval-shaped hole about 8 metres (26 ft) wide, with the edges dented inward.

Beach close to Limburg blast site
Pollution is reported to have killed off fish
The ship's captain, Hubert Ardillon, still maintains that the explosion off the coast of Yemen was not an accident.

"The way the explosion happened it could not be due to a technical problem," he said.

"A member of the crew told me he saw a small boat approach and I believe him."

The account bears similarities to the attack on the USS Cole which was carried out with a boat filled with explosives at the Yemeni port of Aden.

Oil leak

All but one of the Limburg's 25-strong French and Bulgarian crew survived the attack.

The body of a Bulgarian fitter was recovered on Tuesday.

Five crew members have returned to the ship to try to restart its engines.

But the tanker will remain off the Yemen coast until the investigation is complete.

The tanker was coming into the Ash Shihr terminal at Al Mukallah on Sunday to load up with crude oil when crew reported an explosion followed by a fire.

The fire is now under control but oil is continuing to leak from the cargo of crude.

Local fishermen have complained that fish have been poisoned and killed by the pollution from the blast.

 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"
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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