Two oil tankers were hit in attacks in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, a month after similar attacks on four tankers in the region. The attack has led to accusations being traded and heightened tensions between the US and Iran.
The two tankers – the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous – experienced explosions. One source attributed the blast on the Front Altair to a magnetic mine, which made it catch fire. The firm that chartered the Kokuka Courageous tanker said it was hit by a suspected torpedo. However, a reliable source confirmed that torpedoes were not used, Reuters reported.
Following the attack, oil prices surged by 4 per cent on Thursday and rose further on Friday. The attacks come after tensions between Washington and Tehran due to attacks on tankers last month and economic sanctions imposed by the US on Iran.
US blames Iran
The United States which has earlier blamed Iran for the attack on four tankers off the UAE’s coast on May 12, and drone strikes on two Saudi-oil pumping stations on May 14, has once again accused Iran from being the one behind the Thursday’s incidents.
Early Friday, US Military’s central command released a black and white video which they claim shows Iranian forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the two ships. Photographs were also released showing the apparent mine, which attaches to the side of the ship magnetically, before it was removed later in the day, Reuters reported.
Captain Bill Urban, a central command spokesperson termed the attack as a “clear threat to international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce”.
Iran says allegations are “baseless”, “alarming”
The Iranian mission to the United Nations rejected the “unfounded” claims and condemned it. Iran’s foreign ministry on Friday dismissed the US’s allegations as “baseless”, adding that Washington was trying to “sabotage diplomacy”.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet that the US had “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran –(without) a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence”.
Iran said it was “alarming” of the US to blame Iran for the attack on the two oil tankers, adding that it was responsible for maintaining security in the region.
“We are in charge of maintaining security of the Strait and we rescued the crew of those attacked tankers in the shortest possible time … U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo’s accusations towards Iran is alarming,” Iran’s Foreign ministry said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that US actions pose a serious threat to stability in the Middle East.
UK backs US, EU calls for restraint
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt backed the allegations made by the US. “We are going to make our own independent assessment, we have our processes to do that, (but) we have no reason not to believe the American assessment and our instinct is to believe it because they are our closest ally,” he told BBC.
He added that UK is taking the matter “extremely seriously” and called it a “deeply unwise escalation” by Iran as it poses danger to the prospects of peace and stability in the region.
The European Union called for “maximum restraint” and said further provocations need to be avoided. “We are gathering more information and we are assessing the situation,” a spokeswoman for the EU’s foreign service said.
China calls for dialogue, Japan says issue to be discussed at G20 meet
“We hope that all the relevant sides can properly resolve their differences and resolve the conflict through dialogue and consultations,” said Geng Shuang, China’s foreign ministry spokesman.
China is one of the eight buyers globally who were allowed to buy Iranian crude oil before US ended the waivers this May.
Extending support to Iran, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Iranian President Rouhani that China supports the Iranian nuclear deal from which the US has withdrawn.
Meanwhile, Japan’s industry minister in his statement said that the tanker attack will be discussed at G20 energy and environment ministerial meeting.
“The Middle East is a key area for global energy security. We want to talk with other ministers about our concerns about global security and threats,” said Japan’s industry minister, Hiroshige Seko. Both nations refused to comment on the allegations made by the US.
with inputs from Reuters