World

Iran denies tanker attacks as tensions soar

14 June 2019 - 69   - 0

Iran dismissed as "baseless" on Friday US accusations it executed twin attacks that left two tankers ablaze in the Gulf of Oman, raising fears of conflict in the strategically vital waterway.

China called for all sides to "resolve the conflict through dialogue" as oil prices jumped, while the European Union and the United Nations called for restraint.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Washington would defend its regional interests after US Central Command blamed Iranian forces for the attacks -- the second in a month in the strategic shipping lane.

CENTCOM released grainy black-and-white video it said showed crew members of an Iranian patrol boat removing an "unexploded limpet mine" from the hull of Japanese-owned tanker Kokuka Courageous.

No proxy group could be responsible, Pompeo said.

"It is a serious case which threatens our country's peace and stability," Japan's foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that the straits where the incidents ocurred were "vital for our country's energy security".

With tensions spiralling between Iran and the United States, the European Union called for "maximum restraint" and UN chief Antonio Guterres warned against a Gulf confrontation.

But Iran labelled the attacks "suspicious," as its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rebuffed overtures by Abe to open talks with US President Donald Trump.

- 'An aggressive approach' -

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the US a "serious threat to global stability" as he attended an international forum in Kyrgyzstan.

"Over the last two years... using its economic, financial and military resources (it) has taken an aggressive approach," he said.

Suspected attacks involving tankers in Gulf

The two vessels, which were 10 nautical miles apart en route to Asia, were struck by explosions in the early daylight hours Thursday after passing through the Strait of Hormuz some 25 nautical miles off Iran's southern coast.

The Front Altair carrying naphtha, a refined petroleum product, and owned by the Oslo-listed company Frontline was hit by three explosions, according to Norwegian officials, and remained ablaze into Thursday.

Explosions also struck the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, which was loaded with methanol, but the fire on board was soon extinguished. One crew member suffered minor injuries and the ship was on Friday heading towards the UAE port of Khor Fakkan.

There was no claim of responsibility for the blasts, which struck both tankers at the waterline.

Iran said its navy rescued several dozen crew members from the two vessels, while the US Navy said it had picked up 21 from the Kokuka Courageous.

Iran's English-language Press TV aired footage of rescued crewmen from the Front Altair, saying they are all in "full health."

AFP

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