Tanker attack poses new twist

The aerial attack on a 100,000-ton supertanker near the Falkland Islands this week adds a potentially dangerous new dimension to the Argentine-British war in the South Atlantic, Monitor correspondent James Nelson Goodsell reports.

The ship, the Liberian-registry Hercules under charter to US oil interests, was hit by bombs and missiles from unidentified propeller planes. Previously on its way to Alaska from the Virgin Islands, it is now headed toward an unspecified port riding low in the water - listing at least 6 degrees.

Argentina and Britain both deny any role in the attack on the Hercules, which was apparently traveling in ballast, 480 miles northeast of the Falkland Islands , on Tuesday. But despite Argentine denials, only Argentina has propeller craft in the South Atlantic war.

The site of the attack was within the maritime ''exclusion zones'' set up by both Argentina and Britain in April. The US embassy in Buenos Aires regularly reports to Argentine naval officers on the movements of US-registry or US-chartered ships in South Atlantic waters. Some of these put in at Argentine ports. Others simply transit the exclusion zones on their way elsewhere.

With full details lacking, the US government has not yet issued a formal note. Presumably it will do so after the ship reaches port and US officials have an opportunity to talk with the captain and his crew - and to get the full story on the attack. That could be sometime next week.

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