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Vessel Struck by U.S. Sub Was Tanker

November 14, 2002 GMT

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The unidentified vessel that a U.S. Navy submarine struck accidentally near the Strait of Gibraltar turned out to be a tanker owned by a Norwegian shipping company, officials said Thursday.

No one was reported injured.

The Navy had said the USS Oklahoma City, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, bumped a surface vessel Wednesday as it was rising to periscope depth near Gibraltar, but it could not determine exactly what it hit. The sub’s crew spotted a merchant ship in the area immediately afterward but could not establish radio contact.

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On Thursday, the shipping company Leif Hoegh & Co. of Oslo, Norway, announced that a liquid natural gas tanker, the Norman Lady, was struck Wednesday by a ``submerged object″ near the Strait of Gibraltar.

The announcement did not identify the submerged object, but Navy officials said it clearly was the Oklahoma City.

Thor Jorgen Guttormsen, president of Leif Hoegh, said the tanker was en route from Barcelona, Spain, to Trinidad at the time. On Thursday it was anchored at Gibraltar and divers were preparing to assess the extent of damage to the hull.

Guttormsen said seawater leaked into the double bottom dry tank area, but there was no oil leak.

The submarine was operating as part of the USS George Washington battle group, which is operating mainly in the Mediterranean and is scheduled to return to its home port at Norfolk, Va., in December.

The accident recalled a February 2001 collision between the submarine USS Greenville and a Japanese fishing vessel off the coast of Hawaii that killed nine Japanese. That set off a storm of protests in Japan and a high-profile investigation of the Greenville’s crew, which was faulted for not spotting the Japanese boat.

Coincidentally, on Thursday the families of 33 people who were aboard the Japanese fishing trawler agreed to a reported $13 million compensation package from the U.S. Navy. The deal was signed at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

In Wednesday’s accident, the sail of the Oklahoma City _ the vertical structure containing a periscope station _ ``came into brief contact″ with the hull of the Norwegian tanker. The Navy said Thursday it had no explanation for the accident. An investigation is under way.

It is standard procedure for a submarine’s crew to take sonar readings and use other established methods to ensure that no obstacles are on the surface before the sub ascends to periscope depth and reaches the surface.

In describing the known damage to the sub, Navy officials in Washington said the radar mast on the sail section would not raise, one of the periscopes would not lower and some doors to the sail were jammed.

The Oklahoma City is a Los Angeles-class attack submarine commissioned in 1988 and powered by one nuclear reactor. It normally has a crew of 12 officers and 115 enlisted sailors and its home port is Norfolk. The submarine is usually armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, Mk-48 torpedoes and Harpoon missiles.

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On the Net:

USS Oklahoma City: http://navysite.de/ssn/ssn723.htm