KUWAIT, AUG. 1 -- The tanker Gas Prince slipped quietly out of Kuwait today without the supertanker Bridgeton, sailed unscathed past the area where the Bridgeton struck a mine eight days ago and continued under U.S. Navy escort through the Persian Gulf.
In Rome, the Italian Defense Ministry today rejected a U.S. request to send mine sweepers to the gulf to help protect tankers being escorted by U.S. warships. Britain, France, West Germany and the Netherlands had already declined.
No mines were sighted during the Gas Prince's passage through the danger zone near Farsi Island, where the Bridgeton struck the mine July 24, said Rear Adm. Harold J. Bernsen, commander of the U.S. Mideast force that has been assigned escort duty for the Kuwaiti tankers. The Gas Prince left Kuwait because it was already loaded with volatile liquid petroleum gas and can sail faster than the Bridgeton, another Kuwaiti vessel flying the U.S. flag, Pentagon sources in Washington said.
The United States has no minesweepers in the Persian Gulf, where the Bridgeton struck a mine about 120 miles short of Kuwait while under U.S. escort. The Navy's missile destroyer Kidd and missile frigate Crommelin were shadowing the Gas Prince today.
The 401,382-ton Bridgeton continued to take on crude oil today for its return trip down the gulf. Some shipping sources said the ship would leave as early as midday Sunday, while others said it would be in the next few days. Pentagon officials had said the return trip of the two tankers had been expected to begin sometime this weekend.
Bernsen said he was confident that the threat to the ships on the return trip through the gulf had been "minimized," but refused to say what special tactics or measures were being used.