Two oil tankers were damaged in suspected attacks in the Gulf of Oman near the strategic Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, according to reports.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had blamed Iran for the “unprovoked attacks” but Iran dismissed the claim as “unfounded”.
The crew of both the vessels, the Japanese-owned chemical tanker Kokura Courageous and the Norwegian-owned Front Altair, were forced to evacuate following the attack.
Kokuka Courageous, operated by BSM Ship Management, was about 20 miles off the Iranian coast when it transmitted an emergency call for help after an initial explosion. During a damage survey, the crew of the vessel saw a second unexploded mine attached to the hull and evacuated the ship. BSM Ship Management said its crew abandoned ship and were rescued by the passing vessel, a Dutch tug Coastal Ace. The rescued sailors were then transferred to U.S. Navy destroyer USS Bainbridge.
The blast on the Japanese ship appeared timed to undermine diplomatic efforts by Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who was concluding a visit to Tehran. He met with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and was seeking to help mediate potential talks between U.S. and Iranian officials.
According to the Norwegian Maritime Authority, there were three blasts on board Front Altair. The vessel, owned by Norway’s Frontline, was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo,” Reuters news agency reported citing Wu I-fang, a spokesman for Taiwan’s state oil refiner, CPC Corp., which chartered the vessel. The use of torpedo for the attack has not been confirmed and other unverified reports suggested a mine attack.
The tanker was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha, a flammable petrochemical product that was loaded at a port in the UAE and was destined for East Asia. The ship’s 23 crew members — 11 Russians, 11 Filipinos and one Georgian — were rescued by a nearby vessel and transferred to an Iranian navy ship, then taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
U.S. CENTCOM Statement on the incident:
U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time from the motor tanker (M/T) Altair and a second one at 7a.m. local time from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.
Both vessels were in international waters in the Gulf of Oman approximately 10 nautical miles apart at the time of the distress calls. USS Bainbridge was approximately 40 nautical miles away from the M/T Altair at the time of the attack, and immediately began closing the distance.
At 8:09 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft (FAC/FIAC) in the vicinity of the M/T Altair.
At 9:12 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observes the FAC/FIAC pull a raft from the M/T Altair from the water.
At 9:26 a.m. local time the Iranians requested that the motor vessel Hyundai Dubai, which had rescued the sailors from the M/T Altair, to turn the crew over to the Iranian FIACs. The motor vessel Hyundai Dubai complied with the request and transferred the crew of the M/T Altair to the Iranian FIACs.
At 11:05 a.m. local time USS Bainbridge approaches the Dutch tug Coastal Ace, which had rescued the crew of twenty-one sailors from the M/T Kokuka Courageous who had abandoned their ship after discovering a probable unexploded limpet mine on their hull following an initial explosion.
While the Hendijan patrol boat appeared to attempt to get to the tug Coastal Ace before USS Bainbridge, the mariners were rescued by USS Bainbridge at the request of the master of the M/T Kokuka Courageous. The rescued sailors are currently aboard USS Bainbridge.
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 M/T Kokuka Courageous (video attached).
The U.S. and our partners in the region will take all necessary measures to defend ourselves and our interests. Today’s attacks are a clear threat to international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce.
The U.S. and the international community, stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation.
The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.
According to a separate U.S. Navy statement, one of the Kokuka Courageous sailors suffered burns on his hands and was treated immediately by the Bainbridge medical team.
USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), a U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, is underway as part of Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group’s (ABECSG) deployment in support of maritime security cooperation efforts in U.S. 5th, 6th and 7th Fleet areas of operations.
With Abraham Lincoln as the flagship, deploying strike group assets include staffs, ships and aircraft of Carrier Strike Group 12 (CSG 12), Destroyer Squadron 2 (DESRON 2), USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) and Carrier Air Wing 7 (CVW 7).