Japanese operator rejects US claim sailors saw limpet mine on stricken ship
The US military has released a video it says shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from the side of one of two oil tankers attacked in the Gulf of Oman.
- The US says the footage shows an Iranian vessel approaching the side of the vessel and quickly removing a mine
- Two oil tankers were attacked on Thursday
- Iran has repeatedly denied being behind the attacks
The Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous and the Norwegian-owned Front Altair were attacked on Thursday. Both vessels suffered explosions, forcing crews to abandon ship and leave them adrift in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran.
In a statement, US Central Command said the crew of the Kokuka Courageous “abandoned their ship after discovering a probable unexploded limpet mine on their hull following an initial explosion”.
The statement said that later on Thursday “an IRGC (Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps) Gashti Class patrol boat approached the Kokuka Courageous and was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine”.
A US Central Command photograph showing what it said was damage to the side of the Kokuka Courageous and a probable unexploded limpet mine on the ship’s hull. (Supplied: US Central Command)
Central Command issued black-and-white footage and still photographs showing the Iranian vessel as well as what it said was damage to the hull of the Kokuka Courageous, and a limpet mine attached to the side of the ship.
“The US and the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation,” US Navy Captain Bill Urban said.
“The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.”
The statement did not specify how the video and images were obtained, but said a US military aircraft and the USS Bainbridge were in the area following the attacks, with the US warship rescuing sailors from one of the tankers after responding to a distress call.
Such imagery is often difficult to declassify and its release appeared to show US efforts to convince the international community of Iran’s culpability in Thursday’s attacks.
Japanese ship’s owners say reports of mine attack ‘false’
But the Japanese ship’s operator said sailors on board the Kokuka Courageous saw “flying objects” just before the attack and contradicted the US military account.
Company president Yutaka Katada said he believed the flying objects seen by the sailors could have been bullets, and denied the possibility of mines or torpedoes because the damage was above the ship’s waterline.
The footage released by the US earlier appeared to show a mine above the ship’s waterline.
However Mr Katada called reports of a mine attack “false”.
Mr Katada said crew members also spotted an Iranian naval ship nearby, but did not specify whether that was before or after the attack.
The Front Altair burned for hours following a suspected torpedo strike.
What else are the US and Iran saying?
Tehran has bluntly denied US claims that it was responsible for the attacks.
The release of the footage came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said America believed Iran was responsible for the attacks.
He did not immediately offer concrete evidence but said it was based on US intelligence of the type of weapons used and the expertise needed to execute the strikes.
Iran said it rescued 44 crew members from the oil tankers following the incident.
“We are in charge of maintaining security of the Strait and we rescued the crew of those attacked tankers in the shortest possible time,” state radio reported Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying.
“US Secretary of State Pompeo’s accusations towards Iran [are] alarming.”
The White House said US President Donald Trump had been briefed and the US Government would continue to assess the situation.
Similar attacks happened in May
Washington has also accused Tehran of being behind a similar attack on May 12 on four tankers in the same area, which is a vital shipping route through which much of the world’s oil passes.
Iran has fiercely denied the US assertions, with its mission to the United Nations condemning what it called unfounded claims.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the incidents as suspicious.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, near where the attacks happened, if it cannot sell its oil due to US sanctions.
In 1987 and 1988 Iran used mines against oil tankers and the US Navy escorted ships through the region.