US releases video it claims shows Iran removing unexploded mine from attacked oil tankers in Strait of Hormuz
The black and white footage purportedly shows a Revolutionary Guard patrol boat pulling alongside the Kokuka Courageous and removing unexploded limpet mines from the hit ship
The US military released a video on Friday which it says shows Iran's Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the two oil tankers that were targeted close to the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday morning.
The military also suggested that the Islamic Republic sought to remove the evidence from the scene of its involvement. The US Navy had rushed to assist the ships in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Iran, including one vessel that was on fire on Thursday, June 13, by an explosion.
CNN reported that the operators of the ships have not given any immediate explanation for who or what caused the damage against the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous.
Each of the ships had been loaded with petroleum products, and the Front Altair burned for hours that sent up a column of thick, black smoke.
Captain Bill Urban, a spokesperson for the US Central Command, issued a timeline that suggested the military had seen Iranian vessels returning to the Japanese-owned ship. Urban said: "At 4:10 p.m. local time an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approached the M/T Kokuka Courageous and was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine from the Courageous."
Iran denies being involved, accusing the US instead of waging an "Iranophobic campaign" against it. While Iran has denied being involved in the attack, Tehran previously used mines against oil tankers in 1987 and 1988 in the "Tanker War," when the US Navy escorted ships through the region.
The black-and-white footage, as well as still photographs released by the U.S. military's Central Command on Friday, appeared to show the limpet mine on the Kokuka Courageous. A Revolutionary Guard patrol boat pulled alongside the ship and removed the mine, Urban said.
"The U.S. and the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation," he said. "The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests."
Iran earlier denied involvement via a statement from its mission to the United Nations. "The U.S. 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 and the most significant threat to its peace and security," the statement said.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, the owner of the Kokuka Courageous said its sailors saw "flying objects" before the attack, suggesting it wasn't damaged by mines. Company president Yutaka Katada offered no evidence for his claim, which contradicts the US military account. Katada also said crew members saw an Iranian naval ship nearby, but did not specify whether this was before or after the attacks.
The suspected attacks occurred at dawn Thursday about 40 kilometers (25 miles) off the southern coast of Iran. The Front Altair, loaded with the flammable hydrocarbon mixture naphtha from the United Arab Emirates, radioed for help as it caught fire. A short time later, the Kokuka Courageous, loaded with methanol from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, also called for help. The U.S. Navy sent a destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, to assist, said Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a 5th Fleet spokesman.
He described the ships as being hit in a "reported attack," without elaborating.
Thursday's attack resembled the targeting of four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah in May. US officials then also accused Iran of targeting the ships with limpet mines, which are magnetic and attach to the hulls of a ship. The mines disable, but don't sink, a vessel.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told journalists on Thursday that the US assessment of Iran's involvement was based in part on intelligence, as well as the expertise needed for the operation.
It was also based on recent incidents in the region, which the US also blamed on Iran, including the use of limpet mines in the Fujairah attack, he said. He also tied Iran to a drone attack by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline around the same time.
"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. He didn't elaborate and took no questions.
Iran denied being involved in the attacks last month and its foreign minister questioned the timing of Thursday's incidents, given that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran.
Pompeo noted that Abe had asked Iran to enter into talks with Washington but Tehran "rejected" the overture.
"The supreme leader's government then insulted Japan by attacking a Japanese-owned oil tanker just outside Iranian waters, threatening the lives of the entire crew, creating a maritime emergency," Pompeo added. At the United Nations, the Security Council held closed consultations on the tanker incidents late on Thursday at the request of the United States but took no action.
With AP inputs.