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Missile's Hit on Tanker Called 'a Lucky Shot'

October 19, 1987|From Times Wire Services

MANAMA, Bahrain — The Iranian missile that wrecked a U.S.-flagged tanker was "a lucky shot" that could have hit Kuwait's oil terminal complex or several other ships in the area, U.S. military sources said Sunday.

Kuwaiti officials Sunday lodged a formal protest with Tehran over the incident. Iran's foreign minister virtually acknowledged that Iran launched the missile Friday and hinted at more attacks.

Salvage executives said it would cost up to $10 million to repair the 81,283-ton Sea Isle City after Friday's attack.

U.S. and Kuwaiti officials who inspected the ship Saturday confirmed that the missile was a Chinese-made Silkworm, U.S. military sources said. Officials said it was fired from Iranian-held territory in the southern Faw Peninsula, 50 miles to the northeast from where the tanker sat in Kuwaiti waters.

18 Injured in Blast

The blast injured 18 crewmen, blinding the American captain and a Filipino sailor, according to medical sources in Kuwait. Six remained hospitalized Sunday, said the sources, who spoke on condition on anonymity.

"It was, from Iran's point of view, a lucky shot," said one military source who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The missile was fired in the general direction of the Kuwaiti terminal. It had to hit something. Its radar guidance system just happened to pick up the Sea Isle City."

Iran Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, in comments broadcast by Tehran radio and monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp., said the attack was "foreseeable."

"If the Americans and other foreign forces who have an active military presence understand this bitter reality, we can have hopes for the future of the region," he said. "But if they continue to entertain their past misgivings . . . they will learn more lessons in the future."

Velayati spoke during a stopover in Frankfurt, West Germany, en route to Cuba and Nicaragua.

In a Washington interview, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger reiterated that the Iranians were responsible for the attack. "Very few people have their own private Silkworms," he said.

Another U.S. tanker was hit by a Silkworm 24 hours earlier but sustained far less damage. That attack also was blamed on Iran.

Kuwait's Cabinet called for "more serious and effective" Arab and international efforts to control Iran.

Also Sunday, the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, Sam H. Zakhem, was recalled to Washington "for consultations," an embassy official said. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he didn't know whether the summons was related to the Iranian attack.

In Dubai, the Bridgeton, the first reflagged tanker to be attacked, left drydock and headed into the Persian Gulf to join a U.S. escort after undergoing repairs for damage caused by a mine blast last July, witnesses said.

In the Suez Canal, four U.S. warships heading to the gulf were led by the cruiser Richmond K. Turner, followed by the frigates Gallery, Carr and Elrod.

It was not known whether the ships were being added to the 11 American ships in the gulf or were replacements for ships already there.

In Tehran, Iranian officials accused U.S. forces of torturing four wounded Iranian sailors detained in a clash in the gulf this month. The four were repatriated to Iran on Saturday.

State-run Tehran radio quoted Hussein Alaie, commander of the naval wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, as saying the four wounded Revolutionary Guards were subject to "the worst kinds of torture, unprecedented in the history of mankind."

A State Department official deferred any comment until today.

Six wounded Iranians were taken by American forces after U.S. helicopter gunships attacked their speedboats in the northern gulf Oct. 8, sinking one and disabling two others. U.S. officials said the Iranians had first fired at an unarmed U.S. helicopter.

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