OSLO — Twenty-one crewmen were killed in the worst single attack on merchant shipping of the Persian Gulf war, shipping officials said today.
Iraqi jets pumped Exocet missiles into the 218,467-ton Norwegian-operated tanker Susangird, owned by the National Iranian Tanker Co., as it sailed fully loaded from the Kharg Island terminal last week.
Jan Evjanth, a spokesman for the Norwegian firm Reksten, said that five seamen survived the attack and that Iran had abandoned an air and sea search for the remaining crew members, including the ship's Norwegian captain. Most of the crew was Filipino and Polish.
"We had a telephone call from Tehran to say that they've called off the search," Evjanth said. "Four Philippine and one Polish crewman survived and are being treated in hospital. We've been told the others are dead. They said they found only two bodies, charred beyond recognition."
Evjanth had no information on the fate of representatives from the National Iranian Tanker Co. who were reported to have been on board when the ship was attacked last Wednesday and Thursday.
The known survivors were the Polish chief engineer and the ship's radio officer, second mate, third engineer and canteen boy.
Shipping sources have been unable to obtain clear information about the attack. Earlier reports said 26 people were feared killed.
Since the Persian Gulf tanker war began in earnest in 1984, only last May's attack on the U.S. Navy frigate Stark has killed more people. Thirty-seven died when Iraqi missiles accidentally hit the vessel.
Norwegian shippers have a stake in one in five vessels sailing within the Strait of Hormuz at any given time.
Last Thursday the Singapore-flagged, Norwegian-managed Norman Atlantic sank in flames. It was the first tanker sunk in the tanker war, which has claimed the lives of more than 100 seamen.