'Initial results' of Limburg tanker investigation indicate terrorist attack

By an OGJ correspondent

PARIS, Oct. 11, UPDATE -- The French Foreign Affairs ministry confirmed Friday that the "initial results" of the investigation being conducted by French, Yemeni, and American investigators aboard the tanker Limburg indicate a terrorist attack. However, the investigation is continuing, the ministry told OGJ. Yemen authorities early on had called upon US experts and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to join in the investigation into the explosion and fire suffered by the vessel Oct. 6 off Yemen. The double-hulled supertanker is 2 years old.

French media Thursday reported that fiberglass sections from a boat not belonging to the Limburg were embedded in the tanker at the site of the explosion, and a communiqué sent to Agence France-Presse by a Yemeni militant group, Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Foreign Affairs ministry has asked its diplomatic and consular posts in high-risk areas to bolster safety and protective measures. Under the guidance of the general secretariat for marine affairs, France's national navy and commercial shipowners are also examining reinforced support measures that could be brought to the commercial fleet in these same risk areas.

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Supertanker explosion off Yemen now believed caused by terrorist attack

By an OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, Oct. 10, UPDATE -- French and US experts who boarded the French-flagged Limburg tanker, which suffered an explosion and fire off Yemen, are now virtually certain it was a terrorist attack: They found pieces of a vessel embedded in the flank of the tanker, confirming a sailor's statement that he saw a vessel rushing towards the tanker, according to French press reports today. Even the Yemeni authorities now speak of a terrorist attack. The remains of the small vessel will now be examined.

"The apparent terrorist attack on an oil tanker (off) Aden, Yemen, has underscored the potential for Al Qaeda to target the global oil industry," said Boston-based Energy Security Analysis Inc. in a Weekly Intelligence Briefing. "This is a chilling thought for the oil market, especially given the likelihood that there will be a war in Iraq.

"While a war contained within Iraq's borders would have limited impact on the global supply and demand for crude, there are concerns that if the conflict spills into Israel, or another (Persian Gulf) producing country, the impact on the oil markets could be dramatic," ESAI said. "Saddam Hussein could conceivably try to bring other countries into the conflict, or groups opposing US presence in the gulf—such as Al Qaeda—could use terrorist attacks to complicate if not widen the conflict."
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By an OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, Oct. 8 -- The French and Yemeni governments are investigating the cause of the explosion and fire that occurred Sunday on the 300,000 dwt, double-hull very large crude carrier off Yemen. Of the tanker's crew of 25—8 French and 17 Bulgarian nationals—12 were injured, and one Bulgarian killed. His body has been recovered.

The fire, which had been raging since Sunday, was extinguished Monday, but an oil slick of 8,000 tonnes is now threatening Yemeni waters

The 2-year-old VLCC, which was flying the French flag, is owned by Cie. Maritime Belge, whose Belgium affiliate Euronav SA chartered the vessel on behalf of Malaysian company Petronas to deliver Persian Gulf area oil to a refinery in Melaka, Malaysia.

The supertanker was coming from Ras Tanura harbor in Saudi Arabia, where it had loaded 400,000 bbl of crude, and was to lift 1.5 million bbl more at the oil terminal of Mina Al-Dabah, near Al-Mukalla.

On Sunday morning, the tanker was 3 nautical miles from the Mina Al-Dabah terminal and was preparing to receive a pilot boat to escort it to the terminal. Initial reports indicated that a small fishing boat had come into contact with the tanker prior to the explosion.

According to the Limburg ship owners, the small boat's impact "was voluntary, for to go through the hull of a double-hull tanker only 2 years old required very, very strong energy." Euronav based its conclusions on a telephone conversation Monday with Captain Hubert Ardillon, the Limburg skipper, who said he had seen a small boat approaching his tanker at a high rate of speed just before the explosion.

Cie. Maritime Belge and Euronav stand by Ardillon's version that the explosion came from the outside and that the breach was above the waterline. "Nothing (else) can provoke an explosion at that level," they maintained.

But another authorized source has mentioned that an internal explosion could have caused the hole in the ship's side, which the French newspaper Le Monde reported was 10 yards across. A US State Department official was quoted by Le Monde as saying "indications at this stage are that the explosion occurred inside the tanker; the metal sheets exploded outwards."

Yemen officials also said they believe that a fire onboard the ship caused the explosion, "but investigations are still under way."

Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin had said in a radio interview Monday "that no possibility is excluded."

The French Foreign ministry told OGJ that the government has sent a number of experts, including oil spill experts and members of its counterespionage body—the equivalent of the FBI—to Yemen. An agreement between French President Jacques Chirac and his Yemen counterpart, Ali Abdallah Saleh, preceded the decision to send the investigators to Yemen.

French counterintelligence agents are now in Al-Mukalla questioning the crew and other witnesses to determine the cause of the explosion, French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marie Masdupuy told OGJ Tuesday. The ministry is not yet prepared to venture an assumption as to whether the cause was accidental or due to a deliberate attack. The investigation team will need "a few days" to reach a conclusion, she said.

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