MANAMA, Bahrain — An Iranian warship blasted the back out of a Romanian-flag freighter in the gateway to the Persian Gulf today, setting it ablaze and critically injuring two crewmen, gulf-based salvage executives said.
They said a Taiwan-based Panamanian-flag ship in the vicinity was hit by rocket-propelled grenades almost simultaneously and also caught fire.
The attacks brought to four the number of commercial ships struck by Iran in the gulf in the last three days.
The Romanian-flag 8,850-ton freighter Fundulea was headed for Kuwait when it was hit. The 16,859-ton container vessel Uni-Master was en route to Saudi Arabia.
Both were attacked in the Strait of Hormuz.
Burned for 5 Hours
The Fundulea, which was hit by cannon fire, burned for about five hours after the morning attack, said the salvage executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Its crew abandoned ship after its master, second officer and cook were injured, they said. The injured were taken by helicopter to a hospital in the United Arab Emirates, where the master and second officer were reported in critical condition.
A radio dispatcher who monitored a distress call said the Fundulea was attacked about 10:30 a.m. after passing through the narrowest portion of the Strait of Hormuz en route to Kuwait by an Iranian warship that had demanded to know details of its voyage.
A crew member was quoted as saying the Iranians let the ship proceed, then opened fire from a distance of about 40 yards.
Tugs rushed from the United Arab Emirates and Oman and helped extinguish the fire on the Uni-Master, whose crew remained aboard, the sources said
The Uni-Master, owned by the Taiwan-based Uniglory M company, was reported badly damaged. "The superstructure of the vessel is gone," a Dubai-based radio monitor said.
The Iranian navy often intercepts vessels in the strait to see if they are carrying war materials for Iraq, its enemy in a 7-year-old war.
Meanwhile today, the Pentagon said U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf have found and destroyed two more mines, making a total of nine mines destroyed since new minesweeping operations began last Friday.
The U.S. Central Command, which has jurisdiction over U.S. forces in the gulf, said the mines were found Sunday in the same general area where the re-flagged tanker Bridgeton struck a mine on the maiden escort run of U.S. warships accompanying re-registered Kuwaiti tankers.
The statement said the minesweepers Inflict and Fearless operated with Navy explosive ordnance disposal experts to destroy the mines in the Farsi mine danger area.