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Ship Sinks in Red Sea, Question Whether Mine Caused It

April 25, 1985

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ A freighter loaded with 14,000 tons of steel sank in the Red Sea after the captain reported an explosion. Lloyd’s said Thursday it probably hit a mine, but shipping sources here said they doubted that.

The ship’s 20 crew members were rescued.

Mariner II, registered in Panama, sank Wednesday morning in deep water about 350 miles north of Jidda. Roger Lowes of Lloyd’s Shipping Intelligence in London, affiliated with the insurance exchange, said it ″almost certainly″ struck a mine.

Shipping officials in this Red Sea port said, however, that the captain mentioned only an explosion and did not say whether it came from inside or outside the 16,270-ton vessel.

Mines sown in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Suez damaged 19 vessels between July 9 and Sept. 20 of last year. Who planted the mines was never determined.

Nations on the Red Sea conducted a mine-sweeping operation with the aid of United States, Britain, France, Italy and the Netherlands.

The Jidda agent for the Belgian container ship Rhein Express, which picked up the crew, said he talked to both captains after the rescue and was ″suspicious of the mine report.″

Akbar Jamil of the Gulf Shipping Agency, local agents for the Mariner II, said Capt. Nicolas Zapandis reported the explosion in the engine room area at 4:52 a.m. Wednesday.

″The captain did not say anything except that a sudden explosion hit the engine room, the generator went out, and water was rapidly flowing into the ship, so he took the decision to abandon,″ Jamil said. The vessel sank about 21/2 hours later.

It was bound from Italy and Yugoslavia to Thailand and Hong Kong with finished steel products, he said.

The second mate of the ship, reached by telephone at a hotel in Jidda, said, ″There was an explosion and that’s all we know for sure, and with it the lights went out.″ Zapandis ordered him to hang up before he could give his name.

A Jidda port official said, ″Everything is normal where shipping in the area is concerned, and nobody seems to be creating a great deal of fuss over the mine report.″

The agent for the Rhein Express, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported that the captain said his ship was about 10 miles away and went to the rescue when his crew noticed that the Mariner II ″had stopped moving on the radar screen.″

The 17-year-old Mariner II was owned and operated by Commercial Marine Ltd. of Piraeus, Greece.

The search for mines ended in October.

French minesweepers found 10, but said they dated from the 1973 Middle East war and World War II. The British found one in Egyptian waters, which the Defense Ministry in London said was a new type of Soviet mine, but who laid it could not be determined.

Egypt accused Libya of planting the mines and also said Iran was involved, but withdrew the accusation later.

A Western military expert in Cairo said the mines evidently did not contain enough explosives to sink ships, which he said reinforced the suspicion that they were laid for ″terrorist and harassment″ purposes.

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