Source: The New York Times
U.S. Navy Rescues Tanker Crew in Gulf
By JOHN H. CUSHMAN Jr., Special to the New York Times
Published: December 13, 1987.
An American warship today helped rescue the crew of an oil tanker flying the Cypriot flag in the southern Persian Gulf, according to officials aboard the command ship of the United States Navy's gulf fleet.
The ship was set ablaze in an attack by at least one small boat, the officials said. Shipping officials in the region said the attack had been carried out by Iranian forces.
The rescue today by the warship, the guided-missile destroyer Chandler, was the most dramatic assistance by American forces to tankers flying foreign flags since the start of a naval buildup here this summer when the United States began provided escorts to Kuwaiti tankers flying the American flag.
The tanker's crew was rescued by an SE-2 Lamps maritime surveillance helicopter based aboard the Chandler, and by a privately chartered helicopter carrying a CBS News crew.
Other press helicopters in the area to film the operation were too small to be of assistance. A Week of Dramatic Attacks
The episode culminated a week of dramatic attacks by Iran and Iraq on shipping in the gulf. For the first time, Iran sank an oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
Among those rescued from the Cyrpiot tanker, the Pivot, was a pregnant woman, officials on the the Navy's command ship, La Salle, reported. One crew member suffered second degree burns.
The Chandler, on routine patrol in the area southeast of Abu Musa, an Iranian island, helped remove about 40 crew members from the Pivot.
American forces did not attempt to engage the attackers, the officials said. The attack occurred at about 9 A.M. and the Chandler resumed normal patrol well before dark.
The Pivot asked for assistance using a bridge-to-bridge radio on maritime distress channels, the officials said. The Chandler moved immediately to the scene, they said.
Bridge-to-bridge radios are commonly used to communicate by ships within sight of each other. The Chandler was believed to have been very close to the scene of the attack.
Rescued crew members were taken first to the Chandler, which is equipped to fly SE-2 Lamps surveillance helicopters from its deck, and then transferred to a tug, according to the officials on board La Salle, which was elsewhere in the Gulf. Captain Remains on Tanker
The captain of the tanker and three other officers stayed aboard the flaming vessel to fight the fire and avoid hazards to other shipping.
Under the rules of engagement governing military operations in the gulf, an American ship's commander can decide to attack small boats that attack Navy ships or American-flagged commercial vessels, or that demonstrate hostile intent.
But international law and the rules of engagement permit rescues at sea of mariners in distress anywhere in the world.
La Salle officer remarked today that even after American helicopters fired on the Iranian naval vessel Iran Ajr, spotted laying mines in the Gulf on Sept. 21, the Navy pulled Iranian crew members from the water.
Likewise, an American warship once went to the assistance of an Iraqi pilot downed at sea.
On a few occasions, there have been reports of civilian vessels under attack that were not aided by nearby American warships.
But people familiar with shipping in the gulf said the Navy would probably have been willing to help.
The most likely explanations of previous situations, they said, are that the Navy's forces either were not in a position to help or did not receive the distress signals.
Shipping sources in the gulf who heard a slightly garbled cry for help from the Cypriot tanker said the radio officer cried ''Mayday'' three times, then said he was being attacked by small gunboats.
While four officers of the tanker stayed on board to contain the fire, the others were picked up off the forward portion, or forecastle, of the ship.
Four rockets were fired at the tanker, the officials said, and two of them hit it. The most damage was done at the ship's rear, the site of the bridge and radio room.