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    U.S. Hires Ship to Move Tanks to Persian Gulf (Update1)
    By Bill Murray

    Washington, Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is chartering a third cargo ship to move military equipment from the U.S. to the Middle East where it has pre-positioned tanks, trucks and other combat gear, a military spokeswoman said.

    A ship capable of carrying 56,000 square feet of cargo will carry 67 pieces of ``track equipment'' matching the weight and dimensions of a U.S. M1 Abrams tank and should ``be ready today,'' said Marge Holtz, director of public affairs for the U.S. Military Sealift Command. Loading could be completed within 24 hours.

    ``Those ships are used to moving quickly because it's a money- maker for them,'' Holtz said. This is the third ship the Command has hired in the past month, she said.

    The ship is to sail from an unidentified port in the U.S. Southeast to an unspecified port in the Middle East, Holtz said. Currently, the U.S. pre-positions tanks, trucks, ambulances and tanker trucks on ships in the vicinity of the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and other offshore locations.

    In the U.S., crude oil for October delivery rose as much as 30 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $28.09 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. An attack on Iraq, the fourth- largest Middle East producer, may halt the country's oil production and disrupt shipments from the Persian Gulf.

    Last month the Sealift Command contracted for smaller ships capable of carrying 48,000 square feet of bulk cargo that includes wheeled vehicles, ammunition, and helicopters to an undisclosed Red Sea port.

    ``There are 41 pre-positioned ships around the world'' carrying military supplies, Holtz said. ``We're in the market virtually every week.''

    The U.S. since 1993 has pre-positioned weapons, supplies and vehicles in Kuwait and Qatar and on vessels in the region to equip at least three brigades of troops -- roughly 9,000 to 15,000 soldiers who would fly there from the U.S.

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