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French Ship Hit in Gulf; Iran Suspected : Gunboat Attack on Vessel Adds to Strains in Paris-Tehran Ties

July 14, 1987|From Times Wire Services

Suspected Iranian gunboats badly damaged a French cargo ship Monday in the Persian Gulf, shipping officials said, and Iraq later announced its warplanes had raided a nearby Iranian island.

Shipping insurer Lloyd's of London said two gunboats raked the French container ship Ville d'Anvers with machine-gun and cannon fire 15 miles east of Saudi Arabia. No injuries were reported.

The attack on the French-owned ship occurred not long after Iran accused French border police at the Geneva airport of beating up an Iranian diplomat. The French Ministry of External Relations in Paris said it was "making inquiries with the appropriate services."

Strained Relations

Relations between Paris and Tehran already were tense, with the two countries at loggerheads over French demands that an interpreter at the Iranian Embassy in Paris answer a summons to testify about a series of bombings last year. For the past month, Paris police have surrounded the embassy where the Iranian official is wanted for questioning.

Three hours after the ship attack, Iraq said its jets bombed oil installations on Farsiyah, inflicting "devastating blows." Farsiyah is one of several Iranian islands on which the Revolutionary Guards base their gunboats.

A military communique broadcast on Baghdad radio also said Iraqi fighter-bombers scored direct hits on a "a large maritime target," the Iraqi phrase for a tanker.

In Washington, the Democratic-led House--which last week passed legislation seeking a 90-day delay in U.S. reflagging of Kuwaiti tankers--called Monday for a cease-fire between warring Iran and Iraq.

The resolution, which does not carry the force of law but does reflect congressional concern over the prolonged conflict, was approved by a voice vote.

And Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, calling the reflagging operation "imminent," said U.S. forces are ready to attack Iranian Silkworm missile installations if Iran trains them on Kuwaiti tankers escorted by American warships in the gulf. "The Silkworm is a weapon capable of causing considerable damage. It is important that everyone understand that we would not have to wait until it actually hit us," he said.

French Protest

The Ville d'Anvers was bound from Kuwait to the United Arab Emirates port of Dubai when attacked. Last September, Iran began to concentrate its gulf attacks on ships owned by or serving the emirate, which supports Iraq.

Calling the attack "a serious affair," the French government sent its charge d'affaires in Tehran to demand an explanation from Iranian authorities.

The Ville d'Anvers' captain, Max Gangneur, told reporters by radio that fire from the attacking vessels raked the ship at 2:25 a.m. "The raiders deliberately targeted the crew's quarters, where the crew was asleep," he said.

"It's a miracle we suffered no casualties," Gangneur said. He said the hull and engine room were badly damaged and the vessel's electricity supply was cut off.

The ship's radio operator told French radio that two high-speed launches circled the vessel and struck with machine gun and cannon fire.

Added Second Mate Henri Buquet, who was on the bridge at the time: "I will not come back to the gulf--not ever."

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