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Seek Approval For Loading Oil on Bridgeton

July 28, 1987

KUWAIT (AP) _ A Kuwaiti shipping official said Tuesday the U.S. Coast Guard has given approval for the supertanker Bridgeton to be partly loaded with oil, despite a gaping hole by a mine while the ship was under American escort.

But Capt. Jerome Foley, commanding officer of the marine inspecting office of the Coast Guard in New York, said a proposal from the owners of the tanker is being studied and no decision has yet been made.

He said: ″The proposal is being looked at. It has not yet, not been approved, disapproved or modified. It’s still being studied.″

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Kuwait said he understood that permission had been granted for the tanker to be reloaded. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Kuwaiti shipping official said the Coast Guard gave verbal permission and would probably give written approval to the Kuwait Oil Tanker Co. later in the day.

The official said the Coast Guard, which has responsibility for determining seaworthiness, authorized the Bridgeton to load 260,000 tons of crude oil, about three-quarters of the ship’s capacity. Sources have said the ship sustained a 120-square-foot hole in the hull.

Loading of the 401,382-ton Bridgeton was expected to begin later today, the official said, adding it would probably take about a day.

Other shipping sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press in Bahrain that loading had actually begun. But the official in Kuwait said he couldn’t confirm that.

Kuwaiti shipping officials have said they hope the Bridgeton and its convoy companion, the smaller Gas Prince, can begin the 500-mile trip to the mouth of the gulf on Friday.

That timing, however, depends on the U.S. Navy efforts to find a mine-free path for the return convoy.

The Bridgeton was anchored about 4 1/2 miles off Mina al-Ahmadi, Kuwait’s main oil terminal. It was to load at Sea Island, a deep-water loading platform some 10 miles off the coast.

One source said officials were using a computer to determine how stresses would affect the Bridgeton’s 1,200-foot-long hull structure as the tremendous tonnage of oil flowed in. He said the calculations included allowances for further mine strikes against the massive vessel.

Even an undamaged tanker can break apart if improperly loaded, said Capt. Lawrence Taylor, a local marine surveyor.

″You can appreciate that in a tanker with damage to the extent that one out there has, you’ve got all sorts of questions that enter the equation which are basically not quantifiable,″ Taylor said.

The Bridgeton is supposed to carry its cargo to Khor Fakkan, a United Arab Emirates port just outside the gulf, where it will transfer oil to a smaller vessel. The Bridgeton will then return to the gulf for repairs at dockyards in Dubai or Bahrain.

The tanker hit a mine Friday while bound for Kuwait in a convoy made up of three U.S. warships and the 46,730-ton Gas Prince. One source in Kuwait familiar with the status of the Bridgeton said divers worked late into Monday night patching some of the internal damage to the ship, which suffered flooding in four of its 31 compartments.

Pentagon officials said they believe Iran laid the mine about 18 miles west of Farsiyah Island, which Iranian Revolutionary Guards use as a base for speedboat attacks on shipping in the 7-year-old war with Iraq.

The Bridgeton and the Gas Prince are the first of 11 Kuwaiti tankers to be re-registered as American vessels and protected in the gulf by U.S. warships. The Reagan administration said it agreed to the reflagging to protect the flow of oil in the gulf.

Iran accuses Kuwait and Saudi Arabia of aiding Iraq and says Kuwait receives arms for the Iraqis, whose ports were closed soon after the war began in September 1980. The two countries export and sell about 300,000 barrels of oil a day for Iraq.

Attacks by the two combatants have damaged 330 ships in the gulf since 1981. The ″tanker war″ became a major element of the battle in February 1984.

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