http://almashareq.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_am/features/2019/06/17/feature-02

Security |

Damaged tankers reach safe waters after Gulf attacks

This picture taken on June 15th shows tanker ships in the waters of the Gulf of Oman off the coast of the eastern UAE emirate of Fujairah. [Giuseppe Cacace/AFP]

Two damaged tankers arrived safely Sunday (June 16th) at locations off the Emirati coast after they were rocked by explosions in Gulf waters, in an incident Saudi Arabia blamed on Iran.

The Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous was carrying highly flammable methanol through the Gulf of Oman on Thursday when it came under attack along with the Norwegian-operated Front Altair -- the second assault in a month in the strategic shipping lane.

US President Donald Trump has said the operation had Iran "written all over it" -- rejecting Tehran's vehement denial -- and Saudi Arabia has also lashed out against Tehran.

In his first public comments since the attacks, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in remarks published Sunday that he would not hesitate to tackle any threats to the oil-rich kingdom.

"We do not want a war in the region... But we won't hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity and our vital interests," he told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

He said Iran had responded to a visit to Tehran by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "by attacking two tankers, one of which was Japanese".

Abe had been on an unprecedented visit to the Iranian capital in a bid to defuse tensions between Washington and the Islamic republic when the attacks took place.

Vital waterway

The US military on Friday released grainy footage it said showed an Iranian patrol boat removing an "unexploded limpet mine" from the Japanese vessel.

On Sunday, it said Iran had unsuccessfully tried to shoot down a US drone on a surveillance mission following the attack on the Kokuka Courageous.

The vessel's Singapore-based BSM Ship Management said in a statement Sunday that it had "arrived safely at the designated anchorage" and that its crew were "safe and well".

The other ship, the Front Altair, was under safe tow by tug boats towards an area off the coast of the eastern Emirati port of Fujairah.

"First inspections are under way and no hot spots have been identified following the fire," while all crew members were in Dubai, the vessel's owners said in a statement Sunday.

Thursday's attacks took place south-east of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital corridor connecting the energy-rich states of the Middle East to the global market.

Iran, which is struggling with crippling US sanctions, has repeatedly warned in the past that it could block the strait in a relatively low-tech, high-impact countermeasure to any attack by the US.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday vowed the US would ensure the strait remains open, without detailing what options Washington is considering to protect shipping.

"What you should assume is we are going to guarantee freedom of navigation throughout the strait," he said in a television interview.

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