Tehran has dismissed US accusations that the Iranian navy was behind attacks on tankers navigating the Straight of Hormuz as “baseless.” Iran said their vessels had rushed to help the damaged ships and save their crews.
After two tankers loaded with petroleum products were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, Iranian officials rejected US claims that Tehran was behind the blasts.
The US accusations were made without “a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Twitter on Friday.
Previously, the US Navy said it spotted Iranian vessels near the targeted tankers and published a video that it claims shows Iranian sailors removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of one of the vessels.
However, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the Iranian navy came to “help” the ships and had “saved” their crews.
The tanker seen in the black and white video released by the US Navy is Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous. While the US Navy referred to a magnetic mine, the head of Kokuka Sangyo shipping company Yutaka Katada said that “something seems to have flew in,” according to the ship’s crew.
“The crew members are saying that they were hit by a flying object. They saw it with their own eyes,” he told reporters in Tokyo. The impact happened above the water line so there was no damage to goods and fuel, and it is unlikely that the ship would sink, Katada said.
Magnetic limpet mines were previously used by Iran to sabotage oil tankers during the so-called “Tanker War” in the late 1980s.
Guido Steinberg from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs told DW there were “clear signs that the Iranians are responsible.”
“It is Iran’s modus operandi to use limpet mines and to show the US that they have opportunities to attack the flow of oil in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz — but at the same time they are not attacking directly.”
The most radical elements in Iran’s military are aiming to show that they can “stop the flow of oil” through the Strait of Hormuz in case of a US or a Saudi attack. Almost one-fifth of the world’s oil exports — from Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and Iraq — is exported using this route.
The tensions between the US and Iran are already high over the US pullout from the 2015 nuclear accord and the reimposition of economic sanctions. The Thursday blasts resemble a similar attack on four oil tankers in May, which the US officials also linked with Iran.
“If this goes on as it has been going on for two months now we will see a military escalation before the end of the Trump administration,” Steinberg told DW.
The news of the attacks on the two tankers, one of which is owned by a Japanese company, come as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting Iran in a bid to ease tensions.
Following the incident, China’s President Xi Jinping said Beijing would promote development of ties with Iran regardless of how the situation changes. China’s official news agency Xinhua reported that Xi made the pledge while meeting his Iranian colleague, Hassan Rouhani, on the sidelines of a high-profile summit in Kyrgyzstan on Friday.
dj/rg (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)