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Persian Gulf: Conflicting Reports Of Tanker Incident

Tehran, Washington; 19 December 2001, (RFE/RL) -- There are conflicting reports between Iran and the United States of an incident in the northern Gulf today in which a U.S. Navy ship forcibly intercepted an oil tanker. Iran's state media reported that the tanker intercepted by U.S. ships was Iranian and that two people were injured by gunfire. State radio quoted a Foreign Ministry official who said the Swiss ambassador, Tim Guldimann, who represents U.S. interests in Iran, was presented with a strong protest over the incident. The radio said Iran claimed the right to resolve the issue through legal action.

But the Pentagon reacted quickly, saying the ship in question was a Saudi oil tanker registered in Belize.

Spokesman Colonel David Lapan said the tanker was boarded after it had refused permission to inspect. The U.S. Navy ship involved in the incident was patrolling the Gulf to enforce UN sanctions against Iraq.

Lapan said that during the boarding one member of the tanker's crew was injured by flying debris from the charge used to gain access to the tanker but said no shots were fired.

Lapan said the boarding crew eventually determined the tanker was operating legitimately and allowed it to proceed.