Smoke on the water
Four days after a blast tore a chunk out
of the side of the French-owned supertanker Limburg in
the Arabian Gulf off the coast of Yemen, there seems
only one thing anyone can say for certain about the
incident: There was a genuine hero out there on the
water that day.
With the tanker sitting dead in
the water inside a lake of burning oil, with its sailors
diving off the bow 80 feet down into that burning lake,
with the smoke so think that you couldn't tell what was
going on, or what might explode next, the driver of a
Zodiac pilot boat kept his craft as close to the Limburg
as possible, and he picked up survivors.
British pilot, he's the hero," Georgi Novakov, one of
those survivors, told the Washington Post. "He was not
afraid to go near the fire with the little motorboat."
Which was more than one could say for the
tugboats that were also on hand to guide the ship into
port; they all kept their distance.
that, though, nobody seems to know anything. Was the
blast an accident? Was it terrorism? The captain, Hubert
Ardillon, seems to think the latter. "I am very sure the
first explosion was from the outside [the ship]," he
told Reuters on Tuesday. But in this, he was opposed by
the Yemenis, the French Foreign Ministry in Paris, and
Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia (where the
ship was chartered), who all had their doubts.
The swinging back and forth went on all week.
One day Marcel Goncalves, a vice consul at the French
embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, was whispering
"terrorism" to Agence France Presse, and the next day
the French Foreign Ministry in Paris was issuing a
statement distancing itself from the resulting report.
But on Wednesday a Reuters photograph surfaced
that seems to unmistakably show a hole in the Limburg's
hull right at the waterline with the metal blown inward
- ruling out an internal blast - so it seems safe to
conclude that the blast was the work of terrorists. Of
But what sort?
Here we are,
right back where we started. Not knowing anything.
Because if this was terror, it was of a different sort.
An act of terrorism is meant to be known. It is meant to
be seen for what it is. It is meant to convey a message,
convey terror. That is its very raison d'etre.
Not this blast. If there was a message here,
nobody was getting it. Still, we can make the attempt.
The usual suspects are out there. Let's round them up.
It was al-Qaeda! Even hiding out in Kunar
province in Afghanistan, as many believe - Osama bin
Laden still leads the conspiracy pack, and he probably
always will. Even if he really is dead. (Probably the
only way that the US will be able to kill the bin Laden
legend will be to find his DNA, clone it, grow another,
set him loose, and damn it, this time, get him!) But
since al-Qaeda is generally acknowledged to have blown
up the USS Cole, a bombing that occurred two years ago
to the week of the Limburg blast and less than 400 miles
away, in the same country, using the same modus operandi
- case closed. Right? Well, not quite. It could have
The Yemenis! They had every reason.
Just to show George W Bush that, war or no war, it's
still their port and that they'll blow things up in it
whether he likes it or not. And US Special Forces have
supposedly been charging around the country for the past
six months or so - maybe this was the Yemeni version of
the rebel yell. Or maybe it was ...
Jackal. We at Asia Times Online explored that
possibility on Tuesday. (The
jackal's eyes gleam) and I'm certainly in no
position to judge. But it made for a good headline.
Arrest that man! No wait ...
Maybe it was the
US! Haven't the war hawks been trumpeting their supposed
strategic link between al-Qaeda and Baghdad for weeks
now? And all the time the world just sort of smiled and
nodded and went its business. You want a link? Here's
your link! Also, the tanker was French. Still, it could
have been ...
Saddam Hussein! Maybe Saddam
doesn't need any stinking war hawks to help him link up
with al-Qaeda, or even to help him publicize it - maybe
he's proud of it! Maybe he thinks that by blowing up a
supertanker in the Arabian Sea he can give the US a
little taste of what he's got cooking up in case of
invasion. Shove me around, buddy, and you lose your sea
lanes real quick, maybe he's saying.
about cover the possibilities? Oh yeah, almost forgot
... it was Israel's Mossad! Well, of course it was ...
everyone knows that you can't have a conspiracy without
the Mossad. Did the Jewish sailors show up for work that
day? Has anyone checked?
So which one of those
theories is correct? If it was a bomb, one of them -
whether it's listed here or not - has to be, right?
Here's a crazy idea ... maybe it wasn't one of
them. Maybe it was all of them. After all, as any
spinmaster can tell you, perception is reality, and
maybe the simple fact of Asia Times Online's running a
story on Tuesday speculating that Carlos the Jackal
could have been behind the bombing ... means that he
was behind the bombing!
The headline on
that story, as we mentioned, was The Jackal's eyes
gleam. As well they might. Carlos has been in the game
long enough to realize that it doesn't matter whether he
actually had anything to do with the attack. All that's
beside the point. He gets to gleam anyway! And smirk at
So. They're all true. As long as
someone, somewhere, believes or writes or reads it, it's
true. And in the stew of conspiracy that is the Internet
these days, you can bet that's the case. Because
somebody somewhere out there believes that the
CIA was behind the attack. Because somebody somewhere
believes that it could have been the work of no one
other than bin Laden - it was the work of Osama.
And the Mossad. They're all in it together anyway, you
Which leaves us where? Well, it leaves us
with one dead Bulgarian sailor to mourn, 29 saved lives
to celebrate, a hell of a mess to clean up - and one
truly admirable act of courage by an as-yet unidentified
Now here's something we can all
point at and say, without a doubt, that it was the real
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