RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Two U.S. warships struck mines in the Persian Gulf Monday for the first time since the war began, injuring seven sailors, but a military source said the separate incidents would not affect 'an amphibious landing.'
The U.S. Central Command said both ships sustained minor damage and were fully operational.
As reports abound that a massive land, sea and air assault may be launched against Iraq soon, perhaps this week, a senior military source said the mine strikes would have 'no impact on plans for an amphibious landing.'
'We anticipated mines,' the source said.
The Central Command said in a statement that the USS Tripoli, an amphibious landing ship, struck a mine at 4:36 a.m. It reported no stability problem and said the vessel was under its own power.
Reports from the 10,000-ton ship said the mine ripped open a 16-by- 25-foot hole 10 feet below water, flooding a diesel room, a pump room, and a dry storage locker on three different decks.
The ship was dead in the water until crews shored up the hole in the forward starboard section of the hull and pumped out water, it was reported from the ship. Several hours later, the USS Tripoli had partial power restored.
'We've encountered a number of mines,' the ship's Capt. Bruce McEwen said on a videotape played for the crew. 'It appears to be a very complex minefield that we struck this morning. The ship is stable. ... The ship is at no risk.'
In Riyahd, the Central Command said, 'The ship sustained minor damage, but continues to operate fully mission capable.'
Thiry sailors were taken to helicopter carrier's medical ward, most requiring removal of paint from the storage locker that sprayed them during the blast. Of those treated, two suffered cuts and bruises, one had a mild concussion and a fourth had a broken collar bone.
An executive officer aboard the Tripoli said a half-dozen mines were thought to be in the water ahead of the ship and three were marked by smoke canisters for disposal by underwater demolition teams dispatched from the carrier.
On the Princeton, two sailors had minor injuries and a third suffered a serious head injury answering the alarm to general quarters. They were taken to a British support ship, the Argus.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton struck a mine around 7:15 a. m. It cut its power to 50 percent as a precautionary measure, officials said.
'The ship continues to operate under her own power,' the statement said. 'The extent of damage aboard the Princeton is limited. Damage control teams continue to assess damage aboard both ships.'
The Tripoli's home port is San Diego, and it has a crew of about 685 plus another 2,100 Marines as part of an amphibious group in the northern Persian Gulf. The vessel has a radar system for tracking enemy planes.
The Princeton's home port is Long Beach, Calif., and it has a crew of approximately 364.
The Tripoli is the flagship for the U.S. Mine Countermeasures Group, which was being protected by a screen of U.S. warships that apparently included the USS Princeton.
'I'm not aware of an effort (to sweep mines) this big since the Korean War,' said Capt. David Grieve, the commodore of the group.
Officials aboard the Tripoli would not say whether the mine-sweeping operation was being conducted to clear the way for an amphibious landing by U.S. Marines once the long-awaited ground war begins.
But any sort of amphibious landing would probably require such an operation and Grieve told a group of visting correspondents that the task force was headed west and clearing a 20-mile swath off Kuwait.
The senior military source in Riyadh said he couldn't explain why the incidents occurred just hours and about 11.5 miles apart.
Allied warships have sighted more than 150 of what they believed to be Iraqi mines in the Persian Gulf in recent weeks. The source said Monday's incidents were the first of their kind during the month-old war.
It was not known what type of mines the ships hit or their origin. But McEwen said the mine that the USS Tripoli struck appeared to be moored just below the surface of the water.
Most ships have mine-watchers posted around the clock. They use night-vision goggles at night. The mines the Iraqis place in the water are black. Some mines laid during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war remain in the gulf and have turned brown.
Some mines are anchored, others free-floating, and others are 'smart,' meaning they explode only when a target ship large enough passes over.
If a mine-watcher spots a mine, he summons the bridge, which can order a gunner to destroy the explosive device.