Iranian gunboats intercepted two Soviet freighters in the Persian Gulf, allowing one to continue its voyage but escorting the other at gunpoint to an Iranian port where its cargo was unloaded today, shipping executives said.
The Soviet Union and the shipping insurers Lloyd's of London said the Pyotr Yemtsov was seized off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, the scene of fighting in the 6-year-old Iran-Iraq war.
Lloyd's said Iranian naval forces intercepted and boarded the 11,750-gross-ton Yemtsov at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, just inside the Strait of Hormuz.
"All we have heard is that (the ship) was intercepted," the Lloyd's spokesman said in London. "As far as we know, (it) has not been freed."
The second freighter, identified as the Tutov, was intercepted this morning, examined by the Iranians and then allowed to continue its journey, according to gulf-based shipping executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Iran had no immediate word on the interceptions, but its navy has intercepted many vessels in the Persian Gulf on suspicion of carrying cargo to its enemy, Iraq. In January, the Iranians intercepted and boarded the American-owned freighter President Taylor.
The Yemtsov was the first Soviet vessel Iran has intercepted.
The Yemtsov was apparently heading from a Black Sea port to Kuwait when it was intercepted.
It was chased by an Iranian warship that ordered it to stop and threatened to open fire, the executives said.
They said Iranian commandos then boarded the vessel and forced it to travel to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, 120 miles east of the United Arab Emirates, where it was unloaded.
In Moscow, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov confirmed today the freighter was detained. He said the ship apparently carried cement but had no other details.
Gerasimov spoke before word came of a second freighter's being detained.
There was no immediate comment from Iran.
The Yemtsov first put out a mayday signal that it had been hit by a missile at 25.40 degrees latitude north and 55.40 degrees longitude east, but later "corrected" the signal, reporting that it was boarded by Iranian marines, the shipping executives said.
In Tokyo, the Japanese Shipowners Labor Relations Agency said today that Japanese tankers in the gulf monitored an emergency call Tuesday from the Pyotr Yemtsov and identified it as a Soviet-flag vessel because of its call sign "UOGS."
Registered in Odessa
According to Lloyd's Register of Shipping, the Pyotr Yemtsov is operated by the U.S.S.R.-Black Sea Shipping Co. and registered in the Black Sea port of Odessa.
Lloyd's Register says the approximately-495-foot-long freighter was built in 1975 and carries general cargo.
It was not known how many crew members were aboard the vessel or if there were any injuries.
The seizure comes at a time when there appeared to be a slight improvement in Iranian-Soviet relations. However, the Soviet Union is linked through a treaty of friendship with Iraq and is one of Iraq's main suppliers.