A caption on yesterday's front page incorrectly identified the ship on which a CBS News helicopter was landing during a rescue mission in the Persian Gulf. The ship was the Cypriot-owned tanker Pivot. (Published 12/14/87)
MANAMA, BAHRAIN, DEC. 12 -- A U.S. warship and a television news helicopter rushed to the aid of an oil tanker attacked by Iranian speedboats in the Persian Gulf today, helping pluck 40 seamen and a pregnant woman from the blazing vessel's deck.
A CBS News chartered helicopter was instrumental in the rescue. It was mobbed on the tanker deck by panicked seamen wearing hard hats and lifejackets and carrying luggage, CBS reporter Allen Pizzey said.
The 109,700-ton, Cypriot-registered tanker Pivot, loaded with Saudi Arabian crude oil, exploded in fire and began to pour burning oil into the sea after it was pierced by one of two rocket-propelled grenades fired by the Iranians.
The guided missile destroyer USS Chandler rushed to aid the stricken tanker, attacked off the United Arab Emirates. The Chandler dispatched a helicopter, whose rescue effort marked the most significant American action to assist a non-U.S. flag vessel in the Persian Gulf since the U.S. presence escalated here in July.
Eleven Asian crewmen were rescued by the Navy helicopter, and Pizzey said 29 crewmen were taken to safety by the CBS helicopter.
U.S. Navy officials in the gulf described the action by the Chandler as "humanitarian aid" given to a vessel in distress in international waters.
Pizzey said the CBS News helicopter asked the Chandler by radio if it required assistance. The Chandler requested that the helicopter stand by while it determined whether evacuation was necessary, then asked CBS to join when the operation began.
"When it was clear they wanted to abandon ship we joined in the operation," Pizzey said in a telephone interview from the CBS bureau in Dubai. "By that time, flaming oil was simply spouting from the side of the ship."
The Navy helicopter lifted crewmen aboard one-by-one with a rescue line, but the CBS helicopter set down on the ship's deck and was mobbed by panicked seamen, Pizzey said.
A small fleet of firefighting tugs stood by the burning tanker, which had taken on oil at at the Saudi port of Ras Tanura and was bound for Indonesia.
Crewmen were carrying out a visual inspection of the Pivot from a tugboat to determine if it would be possible to reboard the stricken tanker, U.S. Navy officers said.
Earlier this week, the Singapore-registered vessel Norman Atlantic, which was loaded with highly flammable naphtha, sank in the Strait of Hormuz after an Iranian attack that set the ship ablaze. Up to 10 Asian seaman are missing and feared dead from two Iraqi Exocet missile strikes on an Iranian supertanker, the Susangird, in the northern gulf.