French experts probe tanker blast; Yemen officials insist on accident
A day after an explosion hit a French supertanker off Yemen's coast the vessel was still ablaze on Monday.
The French embassy in Sanaa said Sunday the explosion was caused by a small boat packed with explosives that rammed the tanker, but the French foreign ministry later said there was no evidence so far of an attack and Yemen officials insisted it was an accident.
A Canadian oil company's tug was towing the Limburg loaded with some 400,000 barrels of crude out to sea after oil slicks were spotted off southeastern Yemen.
Yemeni authorities set up a crisis cell and put Transport and Maritime Affairs Minister Saed Yafhi in charge. The cell was instructed "to take the necessary measures to bring the fire under control on board the tanker and to fight maritime pollution," a government spokesman said, according to AFP.
According to Yemeni officials, the captain of the Limburg said the fire started on his tanker and was followed by an explosion while crewmen tried to get the blaze under control.
In Paris, the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday that "no possibility is ruled out." "The investigators will determine exactly what happened ... For the moment we have to stick to the facts," de Villepin told RTL radio.
However, the anti-terrorist branch of the Paris prosecutor's office opened a preliminary inquiry into the blast, judicial officials said.
France decided after telephone talks between President Jacques Chirac and Yemen counterpart Ali Abdullah Saleh to send French investigators to Yemen. "In the post-September 11 world, we know there is a threat posed to all the countries of the world," de Villepin said.
Officials with Euronav, the company that owns the Limburg, said Monday their understanding was that the captain saw a small fishing boat pulling up to the tanker before the blast at 9:15 a.m. local time. The officials speculated the fishing boat could not have caused such a huge blast unless it was carrying explosives. (Albawaba.com)
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