Volcano erupts off Yemen, soldiers killed, missing

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SANAA, Oct 1 (Reuters) A volcano erupted on an island off Yemen's Red Sea coast, killing at least three Yemeni soldiers and spewing lava hundreds of metres into the air.

A government official said three bodies had been recovered, along with one survivor. Another four soldiers stationed on Jabal al-Tair island, some 130 km off Yemen's mainland, were still missing and believed to be dead.

The government previously said at least eight soldiers had been killed.

A Defence Ministry official on the island, which has been home to a military base since Yemen's 1996 conflict with Eritrea, said its western part had ''collapsed'' into the sea.

Naval ships were searching the surrounding waters for missing soldiers. The island has no civilian inhabitants.

Canadian navy vessel Toronto, part of a NATO fleet sailing north towards the Suez Canal at the time of the eruption, was also conducting search and rescue operations at the request of the Yemeni coast guard.

''Toronto recovered one live survivor who was transferred to a Yemeni coastguard vessel, as well as two dead soldiers who were transferred to a Yemeni patrol boat,'' said Lieutenant Commander Angus Topshee, second-in-command on the HMCS Toronto.

Yemen's Oil Minister Khaled Mahfoudh Bahah said several earthquakes yesterday had triggered the eruption.

Jamal al-Shalaan, head of the Yemeni Earthquake Centre, told state news agency Saba that three quakes ranging between 4.3 and 4 on the Richter scale had struck the island at around 1657 IST President Ali Abdullah Saleh had flown to nearby Hudaidah port late yesterday and told the Yemeni navy to send rescue teams, Saba reported.

''A GIANT LIGHT SHOW'' Canadian Navy spokesman Ken Allan told Reuters from on board the HMCS Toronto the volcano on the 3 km island had spewed ash thousands of feet into the sky, but that activity had now died down.

''It was incredible. It was like a giant light show. As you got really close to it you could see the lava spewing down the east and west side ... right into the ocean,'' he said.

''It really lit up the sky. The smoke and the ash were rising thousands of feet up into the air. It was a three-quarter moon and it got blocked out many times.'' Shipments of around 3 million barrels of oil per day through the southern entrance to the Red Sea were unaffected by the eruption, Yemen coastguard and shipping sources said.

Yemen's Maritime Affairs Authority issued an advisory for vessels to keep well clear of the island on the Bab al-Mandab passage at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, one of the world's shipping chokepoints.

Oil tankers move through the passage en route to the Suez Canal or to the southern terminal of the Sumed pipeline in Egypt to supply crude to Mediterranean countries and beyond.

A Yemeni geologist said the volcano had previously erupted in the 19th and 18th centuries, Saba said.

Reuters SKB GC2022

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