The owners of a French supertanker that exploded off the coast of Yemen last night said they thought terrorists were behind the blast.
The explosion on board the Limburg sent smoke billowing into the clear skies above the Arabian Sea. The tanker was carrying 397,000 barrels of Iranian crude and was due to load more at Mina al-Dabah, a port 500 miles south-east of the Yemeni capital Sana'a.
"In my opinion this was a terrorist attack," Jacques Moizan, a director of Euronav, which owns the tanker, said. "The crew saw a high-speed vessel approaching on the starboard side ... an explosion followed."
The Maritime Liaison Office, which co-ordinates communication between the US Navy and commercial shipping in the area, issued an advisory in September warning of the possibility that al-Qa'ida was planning attacks on oil tankers. And last night an audio tape purporting to carry a message from Osama bin Laden was broadcast on the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite television channel. It warned that Muslim youth would carry out more attacks.
France was preparing last night to send investigators to Yemen, President Jacques Chirac's office said, following a phone call between Mr Chirac and the Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
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