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Iraq Says It Hit 2 Vessels; '87 Ship Toll a Record

January 02, 1988|From Reuters

MANAMA, Bahrain — Iraq said Friday that its warplanes attacked two vessels, and Lloyd's of London announced that 1987 was the most violent year of the "tanker war" in the Persian Gulf.

An Iraqi military spokesman said Iraq's aircraft hit a very large naval target--Baghdad's term for a supertanker--at 10 p.m. local time Thursday and a large naval target--a tanker or cargo ship--off the Iranian coast at 10 a.m. Friday.

Aircraft from both raids returned safely, the spokesman said, adding that the attacks fell within Baghdad's policy "not to give the enemy a chance to use oil exports revenues to carry on aggression on Iraq." It was not immediately possible to confirm the Iraqi report.

34 Attacked in December

Meanwhile, Lloyd's Shipping Intelligence Unit reported that Iran and Iraq hit a total of at least 178 vessels and killed 108 seamen during 1987, the highest toll since the gulf tanker war began in 1981. It said 34 vessels were attacked in December alone, the worst month in the entire war.

"At this rate, we won't have too many ships left in the gulf," said one regional shipping source. "It's getting very nasty and very bloody."

In 1986, at least 107 attacks on gulf shipping were confirmed. Altogether, Lloyd's tallied 447 ships damaged in hostilities since May, 1981.

Iraq has been conducting air strikes against Iran's shuttle tanker fleet, which is trying to ferry oil out of the gulf, in a bid to choke off exports that finance Tehran's war machine.

Iran has been retaliating against shipping by neutral nations because Iraq no longer exports its oil through the 550-mile waterway. Iraq pipes most of its oil out through Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Iran's gunboats come up alongside tankers and cargo ships, raking them with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

The last confirmed Iranian attack was on Christmas night, when a gunboat sprayed bullets into a 20,467-ton Saudi tanker just off the United Arab Emirates.

Foreign casualties in 1987 were not confined to merchant fleets.

The U.S. Navy frigate Stark was attacked by an Iraqi jet on May 17, killing 37 American sailors when Exocet missiles struck the ship. The Iraqis said their pilot mistook the warship for an Iranian tanker.

That incident helped internationalize the conflict and led to a major buildup of the U.S. fleet in the gulf.

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