Russian officials have reportedly sent a formal demand to Washington that it immediately release a tanker it seized in the Gulf on suspicion of smuggling Iraqi oil. Additionally, officials indicated that Russia will send a reconnaissance ship next week to monitor a buildup of NATO craft in the Gulf.
U.S. navy personnel, operating as part of a multinational patrol enforcing U.N. sanctions on Iraq, boarded the Russian tanker Volgoneft-147 on Feb. 2. The Pentagon said the ship would be held because of evidence it contained contraband. However, Russian officials have indicated that the ship was carrying legal Iranian fuel oil, rather than Iraqi contraband.
Officials at shipowner Transpetro-Volga said that the ship's crew could soon suffer from a lack of food, water and fuel. They added that the company that chartered the tanker had provided documents saying it contained legal Iranian oil
. The company plans to sue for damages.