DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, JULY 27 -- As the U.S. Navy scrambles to meet the new mine threat in the Persian Gulf, the likelihood of delays to American escorting of oil tankers from Kuwait to the Strait of Hormuz appears to be raising tensions between Kuwait's commercial interests and Washington's safety concerns.

Marine and salvage sources here said today that a U.S. Coast Guard inspection team will decide whether the supertanker Bridgeton, whose hull was damaged by a mine explosion last week while traveling under American naval escort, can be loaded with oil and make the return voyage down the Persian Gulf before being repaired.

In the meantime, U.S. Rear Adm. Harold J. Bernsen, commander of the Middle East Task Force, said he has not submitted a schedule for the escort convoys that had been planned for August because the mine problem has not been addressed.

Abdul Fattah Bader, the chairman of Kuwait's state-owned oil tanker company, had announced earlier that the damaged ship would take on a partial cargo of nearly 260,000 tons of crude oil in its undamaged tanks and make the return to the Gulf of Oman for unloading before heading to one of the large gulf drydocks for repairs.

The involvement of the U.S. Coast Guard, which earlier had to approve safety equipment and operating procedures on the Kuwaiti tankers before they hoisted American flags last week, is seen here as a firm reminder to Kuwait that its "reflagging" plan carries with it the burden of living under U.S. shipping regulations.

U.S. officials say they believe the mine was planted by Iran, although they offered no proof. The blast left a 29-foot by 4-foot hole in the Bridgeton's hull and cracked an interior structural beam, according to Capt. Saad Mattouq, maritime operations director of the Kuwait Oil Tanker Co. Divers have filmed the damage to help the U.S. Coast Guard determine whether the ship can still carry oil or must undergo repairs.

If the 1,200-foot tanker is declared unfit for shipping duties, it would have to proceed empty to a dry dock in Bahrain or Dubai for major repairs. The prospect of sidelining one of the world's biggest oil tankers worries Kuwaiti officials, who want to move their oil exports quickly to fulfill contracts on time.

U.S. Navy officials have ordered an urgent investigation of how to protect U.S. Navy warships from underwater and floating mines, which are believed to be among the weapons used by Iranian Revolutionary Guards in their seaborne guerrilla warfare.

Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said in Washington yesterday that the Navy's antimine capabilities in the gulf would be bolstered to protect future convoys, but he gave no details.

The investigation, according to Bernsen, will draw on mine experts from the Mine Warfare Command in the United States, an 18-man "mine countermeasures team" currently in Kuwait, the U.S. Central Command (rapid deployment force) based in Tampa, Fla., and Bernsen's Middle East Task Force.

"We're putting all those things together, and they'll make some recommendations to Washington," Bernsen said during the weekend.

Although Weinberger said "we don't talk about" U.S. antimine capabilities in the area, Bernsen, in a weekend conversation with reporters, outlined some of them.

"There are lots of things that you sweep mines with," he said. "There is a capability, if you have a small {mine} field, of simply using explosive-demolition people and mine-hunting personnel using very simple equipment to go and countermine, that is blow up a few mines. . . . It's a little bit hairy, but it can be done."

Bernsen also said the Navy might send some of its Sea Stallion antimine helicopters. But Navy sources said Sea Stallions work slowly to clear mines and also might not provide protection against the threat of mines placed in narrow channels where U.S. convoys must pass. Navy escort sonars have difficulty detecting mines because of the shallow waters here.

Bernsen suggested that the Navy is considering ways to monitor these channels. "If you can be reasonably sure that you've prevented someone from going in and laying mines, then you don't have to be quite so concerned about sweeping them," he said. "If you have trouble assuring yourself that nobody's gone in there to lay a mine, then the next logical thing to do is go in there and sweep on occasion, certainly."

The concerns over Bridgeton's seaworthiness and the Navy's urgent desire to develop a strategy to cope with mines in the gulf appear likely to delay the escort operation -- as could any future antimine precautions by U.S.-escorted convoys.

Kuwait has made it clear that it opposes unnecessary delay. The oil sheikdom's crude oil production of nearly 1 million barrels a day and extensive refining and marketing networks in Europe and the Far East, create a strong daily pressure to keep the oil flowing through the gulf, its only transportation outlet.

Salvage sources here have expressed concern about loading the Bridgeton without first repairing its hull and forward tanks, which bore the brunt of an underwater explosion that U.S. Navy officials in the convoy say apparently was caused by a 1,000-pound mine moored to the bottom of the gulf.

The damage to the Bridgeton was initially thought to be limited to one of the 31 crude oil tanks. But marine salvage experts here said today that divers found four flooded compartments on the vessel.

Reuter reported the following:

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the speaker of Iran's parliament and the country's chief war spokesman said today that any attacks on Iraq's regional allies would be made only in Persian Gulf waters.

"Of course, the world cited us literally as saying that whenever Iraq attacks our installations, we will attack the installations of Iraq's partners," Rafsanjani said. "We meant at sea."