MANAMA, Bahrain — Iraqi warplanes attacked the largest oil carrier in the world today and set another tanker on fire while Italian warships began escort operations in the Persian Gulf for the first time, shipping sources said.
The attacks came as U.S. ships and aircraft in the central waterway searched for an American Marine missing when his helicopter crashed near the U.S. Navy command ship La Salle Sunday night. Three other Marines were saved.
Shipping sources said the 564,000-ton Liberian-flagged Seawise Giant--the largest oil carrier in the world--was hit by Iraqi warplanes near the Iranian oil loading terminal at Larak Island just inside the Strait of Hormuz. Gulf-based salvage executives said the tanker had numerous holes in its starboard tanks.
The second tanker, the 256,263-ton Cypriot-flagged tanker Shining Star, was hit as it loaded cargo at Larak Island, the sources said. Fifteen tugboats were fighting flames aboard the vessel.
Three other ships sustained minor damage, the shipping sources said.
Earlier, Iraq had announced that its warplanes bombed two offshore Iranian oil installations in the southern gulf.
A U.S. Navy statement said a Marine Corps UH-1 carrying a crew of four crashed while on routine night patrol 900 yards off the stern of the La Salle, 30 miles from the central gulf island state of Bahrain.
Rear Adm. Harold Bernsen, commander of the gulf naval forces, said there had been no "hostile" activity and the crash was under investigation.
Three crew members climbed aboard a life raft and were rescued by a launch from the La Salle after the aircraft sank in 75 feet of water.
A search continued for the missing pilot, identified as Maj. Dan Hayworth of New Castle, Del.
Two Italian frigates entered the gulf for the first time today, escorting the Italian-flagged Jolly Turchese. The container ship's sister vessel, Jolly Rubino, was attacked by Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Sept. 3, prompting Italy's decision to protect its merchant ships.
Television crewmen in the gulf today said an Iranian armed supply vessel fired shots over the bows of a Danish freighter and eight Revolutionary Guards carrying automatic weapons clambered aboard, forcing the captain to change course. A British warship nearby challenged the Iranians by radio and the Revolutionary Guards released the 250,000-ton Christine Maersk two hours later, the sources said.