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France Says Oil Tanker Explosion Near Yemen Was Not an Accident - 2002-10-11

France offered new evidence Friday that an explosion on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen was not an accident. Recent statements by the French government are the first formal acknowledgment the tanker had been deliberately attacked.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told reporters in Paris Friday that investigators had found pieces of a boat, and traces of TNT aboard the Limburg oil tanker. She said the debris suggests the explosion was the result of a deliberate attack.

The blast aboard the French tanker off the Yemeni coast Sunday injured a dozen crewmembers. Another member of the crew apparently drowned, after he jumped overboard. French, Yemeni and U.S. investigators are together looking into the cause of the blast.

Late Thursday, the French Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that initial findings linked the explosion to a deliberate attack. But from the start, news reports have cited investigators and crewmembers speculating on background that the attack might be an act of terrorism.

At least one member of the Limburg's crew told reporters he saw a small boat speeding toward the oil tanker moments before the explosion. The Yemeni government initially said the boat intended to lead the ship to port.

For now, Yemeni officials still maintain the blast was likely caused by an on-board accident. But late Thursday, Yemen's government also acknowledged that pieces of that boat might have been found inside the Limburg.

Yemeni officials are apparently irked that France has chosen to publicly disclose the initial findings of the investigation.

A spokesman for Yemen's foreign ministry told France-Info radio that Paris had broken an agreement with Yemen to announce all findings jointly. He said Yemen would wait for the results of a laboratory analysis before drawing conclusions.

On Thursday, a Yemeni Islamist Group sent a statement to AFP, the French news agency, claiming responsibility for the explosion. It said the real target was not the French Limburg, but another American ship in the region.