Two sailors missing after tanker sinks

MANAMA, Bahrain -- The U.S. Navy was searching Sunday for two U.S. sailors missing in the Persian Gulf after boarding a rickety tanker deemed to be smuggling Iraqi oil.

The United Arab Emirates-flagged tanker sank at about 4:45 a.m. local time Sunday in the northern Persian Gulf, said Lt. Melissa Schuermann, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain. Six other Americans were rescued.

The missing Americans were identified as Petty Officer 1st Class Vincent Parker, 38, of Preston, Miss., and Petty Officer 3rd Class Benjamin Johnson, 21, of Rochester, N.Y., a Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity.

Schuermann said it was too early to speculate on the reason for the sinking. She described the ship as being in "overall poor condition" and "grossly overweighted."

The entire 14-person crew of the tanker, Samra, was believed to be Iraqi, she said. The body of one crew member was recovered and three others were missing.

The Navy said the tanker was carrying an about 1,900 tons of Iraqi oil in violation of U.N. sanctions against Iraq.

In Washington, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz indicated that the sinking was accidental. He said the tanker had been intercepted as part of a long-running U.S.-led international maritime operation designed to enforce the U.N. oil embargo against Iraq.

Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, told CNN the American sailors boarded the tanker as part of "normal interdiction efforts to make certain that the U.N. sanctions are being observed" when the ship sank.

"It may have been weather-related, it may have been overloaded, but we have no reason to believe it was a hostile incident of any kind," she said.

It was not clear whether the sunken Samra was leaking oil. The Navy said it was still focusing on search and rescue.

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