Owner of tanker attacked in Gulf of Oman blames 'flying objects,' contradicting US claims that Iran planted mines


The owner of one of the two oil tankers attacked in the Gulf of Oman said the crew saw "flying objects" just before the ship was hit, seeming to contract a narrative from the U.S. government suggesting mines were involved.

Yutaka Katada, the chief executive of Japanese shipping company Kokuka Sangyo, discussed the incident with reporters in Tokyo on Friday.

He said sailors on the Kokuka Courageous saw the objects above the water, and suggested they could be bullets, The Associated Press reported.

This seems to contradict the account given by the U.S. military, which said it saw what it suspects is an unexploded limpet mine on the side of the ship.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) released photos of the "likely limpet mine" on the side of the Kokuka Courageous, noticed by the USS Bainbridge, a US warship deployed in the area that came to rescue crew.

In this Powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage from an explosion, left, and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96)(U.S. Navy/U.S. Central Command)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks on the two ships on Thursday, accusing it of trying to drive up global oil prices.

"These were efforts by the Iranians to raise the price of crude oil throughout the world," he said.

He called the attacks an "unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran." Iran has denied any involvement, and accused the U.S. of leading an "Iranophobic campaign" against it.

Pompeo said that the U.S.'s conclusions were "based on the level of expertise for the execution, and recent 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."

The U.S. military's Central Command also shared a video that it says shows Iranian forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from the ship

The U.S. Central Command on June 13 said the video shows crews from Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats removing what looks like an unexploded mine from the side of one of the two attacked oil tankers(U.S. Navy/U.S. Central Command)

Katada, the Japanese executive, called reports of a mine attack "false"on Friday, and said that the ship could not have been attacked by mines or a torpedo as the objects seen by crew were above the water.

The company that chartered the other ship on Thursday, the Front Altair, said it was "suspected of being hit by a torpedo."

Katada also said that the crew saw an Iranian naval ship near the Kokuka Courageous, the AP reported, but did not specify whether this was before or after the attacks.

The Kokuka Courageous was attacked twice, and all 21 crew members evacuated, leaving one "slightly injured."

The Front Altair was also evacuated, with all crew on board safe.

The attacks near the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil route, has left oil prices surging and could result in a showdown between the U.S. and Iranian militaries.

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