MANAMA, Bahrain — A major sea lane in the southern Persian Gulf was closed to commercial shipping today after several mines were spotted in the area, shipping executives reported.
Lloyd's Shipping Intelligence Unit in London meanwhile confirmed that Iraqi warplanes hit four shuttle tankers over the weekend, killing a crewman aboard an Iranian government-owned tanker.
In Cairo, U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger called for a speedy U.N. arms embargo against Iran.
The shipping executives, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deep-water channel 20 miles off the busy United Arab Emirates port of Dubai would remain closed to navigation until U.S. Navy and British warships swept for mines in the area.
Other sources, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States believes Iran seeded the waterway with explosives in retaliation for last week's attack on an Iranian vessel.
The latest mines were spotted Sunday morning by the American missile destroyer Kidd, one of the warships of the 11-ship Middle East Force patrolling the gulf, the shipping sources said.
The shipping executives said at least three and as many as six mines were sighted at three different locations.
They said the mines were believed to have been dropped at night from small boats operating from the Iranian-held island of Abu Musa.
At least two U.S. warships were in the vicinity today, said journalists who saw the scene from a helicopter. They said a Navy helicopter was scouting the area for mines but so far had discovered only a "black plastic garbage bag."
The executives said four British minesweepers that arrived outside the gulf on Sept. 22 would soon move into the area.
Western diplomatic sources said "discussions are now under way in London on cooperative moves to retrieve the mines for identification. It depends who is closest to be in a position to collect them and sweep the area."
Lloyd's, which monitors shipping around the world, issued its own notice to shippers that three mines had been found and said a buoy was set out to mark one of them.
The mines did not damage any vessels, but the shipping executives said the channel is one of the busiest and is parallel to an "exclusion zone" that Iran has declared around Abu Musa.
"What has happened now is that these tankers cannot sail farther north nor can they sail farther south unless they adjust their loads," said a Kuwait-based shipping executive. "It is a clever tactic by the Iranians."