Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- An Argentine warplane hunting the passenger liner Queen Elizabeth II during the Falkland Islands war was the mysterious 'unidentified aircraft' that bombed a U.S.-owned oil tanker, a Brazilian newspaper reported Saturday.
The 220,000-ton Hercules was towed out of Rio harbor Saturday to be scuttled in international waters Sunday or Monday after experts decided it would be too risky to defuse an unexploded bomb lodged below the waterline in a port tank.
'In reality our objective at that time was the Queen Elizabeth II (being used as a British troop ship), but we could never find her,' the Jornal do Brasil quoted an unnamed Argentine Air Force officer as saying from Buenos Aires.
'The plane that we adapted for this operation was used to attack two cargo ships on the route Ascencion-Falklands,' the officer said.
The decision by the ship's owners, the Maritime Overseas Corp., to sink the vessel rather than rescue it for scrap showed it must have been involved in the Falklands fighting, the officer was quoted as saying.
'We used 500-pound bombs and we do not understand why it is not possible to make a controlled explosion of the one that stuck inside the Hercules,' he said.
'This whole story is very strange and mysterious. There must be something that implicates this vessel, something that shows it was in fact being used to carry fuel to the British.'
The captain of the Hercules, Italian Renzo Battagliaril, said he was heading south under ballast -- without a petroleum load -- to go around Cape Horn to Alaska when he was attacked without warning about 500 miles from the Falkland Islands.
Both the British and Argentine governments have denied their planes were involved.
The Argentine officer quoted by Jornal do Brasil said the plane used in the attack was a C-130 four-propellor transport that had been altered to carry bombs. He said another cargo ship was attacked at about the same time.
During the Falklands fighting there were reports from British journalists with the task force that Argentina used C-130s in combat missions, with the crew simply pushing the bombs out the back door.