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20

Oil Vessel Sinks in Persian Gulf

A ship smuggling thousands of tons of Iraqi oil...

A ship smuggling thousands of tons of Iraqi oil sank in the Persian Gulf, a U.S. Navy official said Sunday, and authorities here said some of the fuel spilled into the water.

The Georgian-flagged vessel went down Saturday near Dubai's Jebel Ali port with 3,850 tons of fuel oil on board, said Cmdr. Jeff Gradeck, spokesman for the Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet.

However, the Emirate's Federal Environmental Agency put the fuel figure at only 1,430 tons, saying some of it had spilled. Crews were working to contain the spill, 16.5 nautical miles off the coast, the agency said Sunday.

The aging ship was headed from Iraq to Pakistan at the time, an Emirates official said on condition of anonymity.

Gradeck said the ship had been intercepted several days earlier for violating U.N. sanctions against Iraq. ``The ship was en route to a holding area in international waters for sanction-busting ships when it sank,'' he said.

After the ship was damaged by rough waves, two U.S. ships in the area helped the 11-member Iraqi crew stabilize the vessel, he said. But by Saturday afternoon, the ship began sinking, Gradeck said. The crew of the Zainab was rescued by the Emirates' coast guard, he said.

Under sanctions imposed by the United Nations following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraq can only sell oil on condition that most of the proceeds are used to meet Iraqis' basic needs.

Oil smuggled out outside the so-called oil-for-food deal - and the vessels carrying the illegal shipments - are auctioned off.

Ships loaded with smuggled Iraqi oil routinely pass through the waters off the Emirates.

But after an oil barge believed to be carrying Iraqi fuel spilled fuel off the Emirates in 1998 and contaminated some nine miles of coastline, the Emirates launched a crackdown on sanctions-busting tankers.

In January last year, a tanker carrying 1,080 tons of crude oil from Abu Dhabi to Somalia sank in bad weather four miles off the Emirates' coast, spilling about 330 short tons of crude.

dailynews.yahoo.com