US says Iran behind oil tanker attacks

The US blamed Iran for yesterday’s attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

At approximately 06:00 local time two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman were attacked and sustained major damage. One of the tankers, owned by a Norwegian company, was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha and was reportedly hit by a torpedo. The second, owned by a Japanese company, was carrying methanol and its hull was reportedly damaged by a magnetic mine.

Despite Iranian claims that they rescued all the crew of the two ships, CNN reported that the USS Bainbridge rescued 21 crew members. The attack on the Japanese ship appeared timed to undermine diplomatic efforts by Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who was meeting Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to help mediate potential talks between the US and Iran. Abe had called his talks in Tehran: “A major step forward toward securing peace and stability in this region,” the Kyodo news agency reported.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US believes Iran was behind both attacks based on: “Intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

He added: “This is only the latest in the series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American and allied interests. 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.”

Yesterday evening the US published footage which allegedly showed the crew of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boat: “Removing [an] unexploded limpet mine” from the side of the Japanese ship, more than eight hours after the blasts occurred. Also yesterday, Iran’s IRNA falsely reported that the Norwegian tanker had “completely sunk”.

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that if Iran was involved: “It is a deeply unwise escalation which poses a real danger to the prospects of peace and stability in the region”.

In a statement released this morning, the Iranian mission to the UN said: “Iran categorically rejects the US unfounded claim with regard to the 13 June oil tanker incidents, and condemns it in the strongest possible terms.”

Oil prices jumped by 4 per cent on news of the tanker explosions before decreasing.

Yesterday’s attack followed incidents last month when four oil tankers were damaged in an  attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The US at the time blamed Iran, but Tehran denied the accusations.