DPA: US accuses Iran of removing ‘unexploded limpet mine’ from tanker

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US Central Command has released a video it says shows crew from an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the tankers that was attacked near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday.

 

 

 

 

Hours after the initial explosions the boat “was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous,” spokesman Bill Urban said in a statement alongside the video.

“The US and our partners in the region will take all necessary measures to defend ourselves and our interests. Today’s attacks are a clear threat to international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce,” he added.

Crews had to be rescued at sea following the attacks on the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous near the Strait of Hormuz, a key shipping route for oil between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.

Iran said earlier it “categorically” rejected the “unfounded claim” by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that it was responsible for the attacks, as concerns rose that a wider conflict in the region could be sparked.

In a statement, Tehran’s mission to the UN accused the US and its regional allies of “warmongering.”

“Iran categorically rejects the US’ unfounded claim with regard to the 13 June oil tanker incidents and condemns it in the strongest possible terms,” it said.

“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,” it added.

Pompeo said his assessment was based on intelligence, the types of weapons used and the sophisticated nature of the attacks, framing the incident as part of a wider series of assaults by Iran and its “surrogates” in the region.

He offered no evidence during his announcement in Washington and did not take questions from reporters.

Despite damage to the tankers, there were no immediate concerns for the environment. Global oil prices surged after the alleged attacks.

Last month, the US also blamed Iran for attacks targeting four tankers in the Gulf of Oman, though it has not offered proof. Iran denied the accusations.

A week later, Iran-linked Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for drone attacks on two oil pipeline booster stations operated by Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia in Riyadh province.

“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 after the latest incidents.

After the May incidents, the US announced military movements to the Gulf region, raising the prospect of a further escalation between Washington and its Sunni Arab allies, on the one side, and Iran on the other.

Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih condemned the latest attack, saying that the kingdom was monitoring the “terrorist acts” and would ” take all the measures it deems necessary to protect its ports and territorial waters,” state-run news agency SPA reported.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the incident involving the tanker connected to Japan was suspicious, as it coincided with a high-profile meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran.

Abe was attempting to defuse tensions between the US and Tehran, which have grown since the US unilaterally withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear deal aimed at reining in Iran’s nuclear programme.

Oil and banking sanctions imposed by the US on Iran have since strangled its economy.

Referring to the nuclear deal, Iran’s UN mission said Thursday it was “ironic that the US, who unlawfully withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action now calls Iran to come back to negotiations and diplomacy.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed concern after the latest incidents and warned of a potential “major confrontation” in the Gulf region, saying that was something the world could not afford.

“I note with deep concern this morning’s security incident in the Strait of Hormuz. I strongly condemn any attack against civilian vessels,” Guterres said in remarks to the UN Security Council in New York on Thursday.

The 21-member Filipino crew on the Kokuka Courageous abandoned the ship and were later were rescued from a lifeboat.

Its methanol cargo was intact, and the freighter was not in danger of sinking, said a spokesman for Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the German shipping company that manages the ship.

Iranian media released footage said to be of the fire on the Front Altair, which its operator said was loaded with 75,000 tonnes of the flammable oil naphtha. Iranian authorities have referred to “explosions” and not “attacks.”

A spokesman for Frontline, the owner of the Front Altair, said there was an explosion and a fire. “We are not confirming an attack because we can’t,” the spokesman told dpa. The company said “there has been no marine pollution reported.”