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Iraqi Planes Destroy Salvage Tug

November 20, 1987

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Iraqi warplanes rocketed their third salvage tug in the current blitz of oil targets in Iranian coastal waters, Persian Gulf shipping executives said Friday.

They said Iranian sources reported one crewman killed and five wounded when the tug Salviva was struck Thursday by a missile presumably meant for a tanker.

It was one of three ″large naval targets,″ usually meaning tankers, Iraq reported attacking that day.

Baghdad radio said Iraqi planes hit another such target Friday morning, raising to 21 the number of raids on ships Iraq has claimed since Nov. 9. Five have been confirmed by other sources - three on tugs and two on the same chartered tanker, Fortuneship L.

Iraq attacks tankers and oil installations trying to cut off the exports which pay Iran’s war costs in the 7-year-old war with Iraq. The annual cost to each side is estimated at up to $11 billion.

British mine sweepers detonated four mines Thursday that were found off Qatar, and U.S. minesweepers reported finding two mines. Other British warships escorted a combined force of Belgian and Dutch mine sweepers into the waterway through the Strait of Hormuz.

In the Indian Ocean, U.S. Navy planes searched for an EA-6B Prowler that vanished Thursday with its four-man crew during a routine flight off the aircraft carrier Midway.

It would be the fifth aircraft lost since July, when the U.S. Navy began escorting Kuwaiti tankers sailing under the American flag. The others were two attack jets from the carrier Ranger and two helicopters inside the gulf, with a total of seven crew members killed.

Prowlers carry equipment to jam enemy radar, communications and weapons systems.

The 64,000-ton Midway, based at Yokosuka, Japan, arrived this week to replace the Ranger in the Arabian Sea. Its aircraft will fly cover for Navy convoys sailing to and from the gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran has coastal batteries of Chinese-made Silkworm anti-ship missiles.

Shipping executives quoted Iranian officials as saying an Iraqi Exocet missile destroyed the 530-ton Salviva off the central coast Thursday, killing one Filipino crew member and wounding five.

It was owned by the Singapore company Semco and was the sister vessel of the salvage tug Salvital, sunk Nov. 13. Four Filipino crewmen of the Salvital were killed and three wounded.

The Iranian tug Yousef was damaged Nov. 12, but no casualties were reported.

Salvage tugs assist oil tankers damaged by Iraqi raids, and missiles that hit them are presumably intended for the larger targets. Iraqi pilots fire the surface-hugging Exocets from up to 40 miles away.

Tankers owned or chartered by Iran shuttle oil from the big Kharg Island terminal in the northern gulf, which Iraqi planes bomb almost daily, to makeshift loading facilities in the safer waters of Hormuz, about 450 miles down the gulf.

An Iraqi communique reporting the Friday attack quoted a military spokesman as saying: ″Our air force heroes are determined to destroy all sources of revenue that the enemy is using to finance the war.″

Four sophisticated British mine-hunting vessels have been operating for two weeks in the central Persian Gulf.

That area has been considered high-risk for mines since U.S. helicopters caught an Iranian ship in the act of laying them Sept. 21 and attacked it. The Americans found nine mines on the deck and six in the water.

The combined Dutch-Belgian group of ships entered the gulf after finding nothing during a two-week sweep in the Gulf of Oman, where a U.S.-operated tanker was damaged by a mine last August in an the Fujairah anchorage.

They are the last members of a seven-nation force of mine hunters to arrive in the gulf.

On the first U.S.-escorted convoy in July, the reflagged tanker Bridgeton hit a mine near Farsi, an Iranian island about 140 miles south of Kuwait. The Pentagon said a U.S. mine sweeper found two mines in the area Thursday and Friday and destroyed them.

At Kuwait’s request, the United States has given 11 Kuwaiti tankers American registration so the Navy can protect them from Iranian attack.

Iran accuses Kuwait of aiding Iraq in the war and began regular attacks last year on ships owned by or serving the sheikdom. The Iranians fired three missiles into the main Kuwaiti terminal-anchorage area in October, hitting two tankers and a major loading dock.

Update hourly