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Second Salvage Tug in Gulf Struck by Iraqi Missile; 1 Crewman Killed

November 21, 1987|CHARLES P. WALLACE | Times Staff Writer

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iraqi warplanes hit a tugboat Friday in the northern Persian Gulf near Iran's Kharg Island oil terminal, killing a crewman on the tug and wounding five others.

Shipping sources in the gulf said the salvage tug Salviva was hit in the winch room by an Exocet missile fired from an Iraqi fighter-bomber.

Last week, Iraqi warplanes attacked another tug belonging to the same Singapore-based salvage firm. Three crewmen were killed and five others were injured in that assault.

The tugs, based in the emirate of Sharjah, are used to fight fires aboard supertankers, as well as to help the giant ships maneuver.

In an apparent acknowledgment of the raid, Iraq reported that its warplanes hit a "large naval target" in the gulf Friday morning.

Iraqi pilots frequently fire the Exocet missiles from distances so great they are unable to identify the target except by following a radar blip.

It was this apparent lack of precise aim that led to the Iraqi missile attack on the U.S. frigate Stark in May, when 37 seamen were killed.

In other developments, two Belgian and two Dutch minesweepers sailed into the gulf, joining U.S., British, French and Italian ships already on station in the waterway.

Mines Off Qatar

The minesweepers, which will take up positions off Qatar, will be protected by the British destroyer York. The vessels moved into the gulf at Britain's request after the Royal Navy found mines off Qatar on Thursday, according to Belgian defense officials.

Meanwhile, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander, Hossein Alaei, said Iran has plans to destroy U.S. naval forces in the gulf.

"We have drawn up plans whereby we will utilize all our military capability to destroy the U.S. fleet and solve the Persian Gulf issue once and forever," Alaei said, according to the official Iranian press agency. "The Americans are here to fight us."

Tehran has accused Washington of taking Iraq's side in the seven-year-old Persian Gulf war and has mounted a propaganda drive to force the United States to withdraw.

Iranian parliamentary Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani was quoted Friday as saying that Tehran is negotiating a new defense agreement with the Soviet Union. In an interview with the Japanese newspaper Asahi, Rafsanjani said he had accepted an invitation to visit Moscow soon and the trip is expected to accelerate the negotiations, in which he noted that "little progress has so far been made."

The Tehran regime has been improving its relations with Moscow while continuing to denounce the United States as the "Great Arrogance."

"Iran refuses both communism and capitalism but is ready to enter into cooperative relations with any country, regardless of whether it is a member of the West or East," Rafsanjani was quoted as saying.

According to the Soviet armed forces newspaper Red Star, however, Soviet and Iranian ships in the gulf recently had their first confrontation.

Hostile Pass in Gulf

United Press International reported from Moscow that the paper told its readers Friday that an Iranian frigate had pointed its guns at a Soviet ship and made a hostile pass at a convoy under Soviet naval escort.

The front-page report did not say exactly where or when the confrontation took place, but observers said it was probably Wednesday or Thursday night, while a convoy composed of the destroyer Stoiky, the tanker Argun and the Pobeda were navigating through heavily mined waters.

The newspaper said an Iranian frigate trained its guns on the Argun and began approaching at high speed. It quoted the captain of the Stoiky, Mikhail Volk, as saying the convoy was in international waters at the time and, despite a radio warning to change course, the frigate continued approaching.

The newspaper did not say whether shots were exchanged in the incident.

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