A U.S.-led naval force rescued the Iraqi crew of a tanker that was sinking in the Persian Gulf while smuggling Iraqi oil, a Navy spokeswoman said Monday.

"The ship was sinking very fast and the 12 Iraqi crew had no other alternative but to abandon the vessel," Lt. Melissa Schuermann said. The Georgios was intercepted in the northern Gulf on Saturday.

The Honduran-flagged vessel was carrying 2,083 tons of "illegal Iraqi oil" when the Maritime Interception Force boarded it, Schuermann said.

U.N. sanctions imposed since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait prohibit Iraq from exporting oil except with U.N. authorization. The sanctions cannot be lifted until U.N. weapons inspectors certify that Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction and the means to produce them.

The ship was in poor condition and the boarding party "noticed an oil slick from the vessel and the ship was taking on water very fast," Schuermann said.

Two of the crew were taken to the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier for a "pre-existing medical condition," while the remainder were taken to the destroyer, USS Stout, the spokeswoman said. Efforts would be made later to repatriate the crew, she said.

The ship sank early Sunday, about 60 miles east of Kuwait, Schuermann added.

Since the beginning of the year, the Maritime Interception Force has questioned 1,472 ships, boarded 748 and diverted 62 vessels in its work to enforce the sanctions. The force is comprised of 12 nations, including the United States, Britain, Australia, Italy and Canada.