MANAMA, Bahrain — A convoy of U.S.-flagged Kuwaiti tankers, the first since last week's clash between U.S. and Iranian naval forces, headed into the Persian Gulf today but turned back because of uncertainties about mines, shipping executives said.
The executives, speaking on condition they not be identified, said a sandstorm over the gulf restricted visibility of helicopters and mine-hunting vessels accompanying the two tankers and their U.S. Navy escorts.
A source close to the Kuwait Oil Tanker Co. said, however, that the convoy might get under way again within 24 hours.
U.S. officials conceded earlier that the convoys were falling behind schedule because of concern about mines laid by Iran in the central gulf and the threat of Iranian missile attacks in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow entrance to the waterway.
The U.S. guided missile frigate Samuel B. Roberts was damaged by a mine on April 14, and about a dozen mines were later found in international waters used by commercial shipping.
American military sources said six of the 11 Kuwaiti tankers reflagged by the United States last year have been waiting in the anchorage in the Gulf of Oman, departure point for the U.S-escorted convoys, for the last week.
Two had been ready to move since April 15 and the other four arrived over the next few days, creating what one officer called an "unprecedented traffic jam" off the port of Khor Fakkan.
A seventh tanker, the 46,723-ton liquefied gas carrier Gas King, arrived at Kuwait on April 10. It has been stranded there, loaded but unable to sail down the gulf, because of what the source close to Kuwait Oil Tanker Co. called U.S. "reticence" to risk the mine hazard. The Kuwait Oil Tanker Co. owns the reflagged ships.