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Gulf of Oman attacks: US says video shows Iran removing mine from oil tanker

Iran has denied any involvement in yesterday’s attacks.

Source: Associated Press/YouTube

THE US MILITARY has released a video which it says shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded mine from the side of an oil tanker damaged in an attack in the Gulf of Oman yesterday. 

The suspected attacks left two tankers in flames in the waters of the Gulf sending world oil prices soaring as Iran helped rescue stricken crew members.

The mysterious incident, the second involving shipping in the strategic sea lane in only a few weeks, came amid spiralling tensions between Tehran and Washington, which earlier pointed the finger at Iran over tanker attacks in May.

The video released by the US suggests that the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene. Iran denies being involved, however, accusing the US instead of waging an “Iranophobic campaign” against it.

The ships’ operators offered no immediate explanation on who or what caused the damage against the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous.

Each tanker was loaded with petroleum products, and the Front Altair burned for hours, sending up a column of thick, black smoke.

Persian Gulf Tensions US military photograph shows damage to the Kokuka Courageous oil tanker. Source: AP

While Iran has denied being involved in the attack, Tehran previously used mines against oil tankers in 1987 and 1988 in the ‘Tanker War’, when the US Navy escorted ships through the region.

The black-and-white footage, as well as still photographs released by the US military’s Central Command today, appeared to show the limpet mine on the Kokuka Courageous.

A Revolutionary Guard patrol boat pulled alongside the ship and removed the mine, according to Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban.

“The US and the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation,” Urban said. “The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.”

‘Flying objects’

Iran earlier denied involvement via a statement from its mission to the United Nations.

“The US economic war and terrorism against the Iranian people as well as its massive military presence in the region have been and continue to be the main sources of insecurity and instability in the wider Persian Gulf region and the most significant threat to its peace and security,” the statement said.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, the owner of the Kokuka Courageous said its sailors saw “flying objects” before the attack, suggesting it wasn’t damaged by mines. Company president Yutaka Katada offered no evidence for his claim, which contradicts the US military account.

Katada also said crew members saw an Iranian naval ship nearby, but did not specify whether this was before or after the attacks.

The suspected attacks occurred at dawn yesterday about 40 km off the southern coast of Iran. The Front Altair, loaded with the flammable hydrocarbon mixture naphtha from the United Arab Emirates, radioed for help as it caught fire. A short time later, the Kokuka Courageous, loaded with methanol from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, also called for help.

The US Navy sent a destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, to assist, said Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a 5th Fleet spokesman. He described the ships as being hit in a “reported attack,” without elaborating.

‘Maritime emergency’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told journalists yesterday that the US assessment of Iran’s involvement was based in part on intelligence, as well as the expertise needed for the operation.

It was also based on recent incidents in the region, which the US also blamed on Iran, including the use of limpet mines in the Fujairah attack, he said. He also tied Iran to a drone attack by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline around the same time.

“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” Pompeo said. He didn’t elaborate and took no questions.

Iran denied being involved in the attacks last month and its foreign minister questioned the timing of yesterday’s incidents, given that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting Iranian Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran.

Pompeo noted that Abe had asked Iran to enter into talks with Washington but Tehran “rejected” the overture.

“[Khameni's] government then insulted Japan by attacking a Japanese-owned oil tanker just outside Iranian waters, threatening the lives of the entire crew, creating a maritime emergency,” Pompeo added.

At the United Nations, the Security Council held closed consultations on the tanker incidents late yesterday at the request of the United States but took no action.

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Associated Press

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