Iran yesterday dismissed as “baseless” US accusations that it executed twin attacks that left two tankers ablaze in the Gulf of Oman, raising fears of conflict in the strategically vital waterway.
China called for all sides to “resolve the conflict through dialogue” as oil prices jumped, while the EU and the UN called for restraint.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that Washington would defend its regional interests after US Central Command blamed Iranian forces for the attacks — the second in a month in the strategic shipping lane.
Photo: EPA-EFE / US Navy
US Central Command released grainy black-and-white video it said showed crewmembers of an Iranian patrol boat removing an “unexploded limpet mine” from the hull of Japanese-owned tanker Kokuka Courageous.
No proxy group could be responsible, Pompeo said.
However, Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the US had “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran without a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence.”
He accused Washington of seeking to “sabotage diplomacy” as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Iran.
One of the targeted vessels is owned by a Japanese company, while the other was Norwegian-operated.
“It is a serious case which threatens our country’s peace and stability,” the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, adding that the strait where the incidents occurred is “vital for our country’s energy security.”
With tensions spiraling between Tehran and Washington, the EU called for “maximum restraint” and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned against a confrontation in the Persian Gulf.
However, Iran labeled the attacks “suspicious,” as Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rebuffed overtures by Abe to open talks with US President Donald Trump.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the US a “serious threat to global stability” as he attended an international forum in Kyrgyzstan.
“Over the last two years ... using its economic, financial and military resources, [the US] has taken an aggressive approach,” he said.
The two vessels, which were 10 nautical miles (18.5km) apart en route to Asia, were struck by explosions in the early hours on Thursday after passing through the Strait of Hormuz about 25 nautical miles off Iran’s southern coast.
The Front Altair, which is owned by Oslo-listed Frontline, and as carrying naphtha, a refined petroleum product, for CPC Corp, Taiwan (台灣中油), was rocked by three explosions, Norwegian officials said, and remained ablaze late on Thursday.
Explosions also rocked the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, which was loaded with methanol, but the fire on board was soon extinguished.
One crewmember sustained minor injuries and the ship was yesterday heading toward the port of Khor Fakkan in the United Arab Emirates.
There was no claim of responsibility for the blasts, which struck both tankers at the waterline.
Iran said that its navy rescued several dozen crewmembers from the two vessels, while the US Navy said that it had picked up 21 from the Kokuka Courageous.
Iran’s English-language Press TV aired footage of rescued crewmen from the Front Altair, saying that they were all in “full health.”
The crew of the Kokuka Courageous saw a “flying object” before a second blast on board, the operator’s head said yesterday.
“The crewmembers are saying that they were hit by a flying object. They saw it with their own eyes,” Kokuka Sangyo Co president Yutaka Katada told reporters.
“We have received a report saying that something seems to have flew in, there was an explosion and it created a hole in the body of the ship,” Katada said.
Washington has dispatched the destroyer USS Mason to the scene “to provide assistance,” US Central Command said in a statement, while Oman said that it has sent two navy vessels to assist.
Pompeo said that the tanker explosions were “the latest in a series of attacks” he blamed on Iran or its “proxies,” including Yemeni rebel missile strikes that wounded 26 civilians at an airport in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
A Riyadh-led coalition fighting the rebels, who it accuses of being Iranian proxies, said that Saudi Arabian air defenses had intercepted a new rebel attack on an airport in the kingdom yesterday.
The abortive strike using five rebel drones targeted the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait, home to a huge airbase that has been the main launchpad of the coalition’s more than four-year bombing campaign in Yemen.
“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security,” Pompeo said.
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