Naharnet

Damaged Tankers Reach Safe Waters after Gulf Attacks

Two damaged tankers arrived safely Sunday to locations off the Emirati coast after they were rocked by explosions in Gulf waters, in an incident Saudi Arabia blamed on its regional arch-rival 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.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said the operation had Iran "written all over it" -- rejecting Tehran's vehement denial -- and its key Gulf ally 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.

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

The crew of the Kokuka Courageous saw a "flying object" before a second blast on board, the operator's head said Friday.

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".

A damage assessment and preparations for transferring the ship's cargo would start once authorities had completed "security checks and formalities", it added.

- Strategic waterway -

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," the vessel's owners said in a statement Sunday.

It said all crew members were in Dubai, where they will "assist with the debrief to the owner's legal team and the appropriate authorities, before returning home".

The UAE's Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Saturday called on world powers "to secure international navigation and access to energy", a plea echoed by regional ally Saudi Arabia after the incident sent crude prices soaring.

Thursday's attacks took place southeast of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital corridor connecting the energy-rich states of the Middle East with markets in Asia, Europe, North America and elsewhere.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), 35 percent of the world's seaborne oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz. 

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 United States.

Doing so would disrupt oil tankers travelling out of the Gulf region to the Indian Ocean and global export routes.

Iran's parliament speaker said Sunday that Washington could have been behind the "suspicious" tanker attacks, the official news agency IRNA reported.

"The suspicious actions against the tankers... seem to complement the economic sanctions against Iran, considering that (the US) has not achieved any results from them," he told MPs.

Pope Francis said Sunday he was following "with concern" the growing tensions in the Gulf. 

He appealed "to the international community to pursue every possible effort to promote dialogue and peace".

- 'Iran and proxies' -

The Saudi crown prince also accused "Iran and its proxies" over May 12 attacks on four tankers anchored in the Gulf of Oman off the UAE port of Fujairah.

Attacks on Saudi Arabia by Iran-aligned Yemeni rebels have further fueled tensions in the region. 

On Friday, the kingdom intercepted five drones launched by the Huthi rebels, a Riyadh-led coalition said, in a second assault on an airport in the country's southwest in two days.

The drones targeted Abha airport, where a rebel missile on Wednesday left 26 civilians wounded, and the nearby city of Khamis Mushait, which houses a major airbase, the coalition said.

A Yemeni rebel drone targeting Abha was also intercepted Saturday, but it caused no casualties or damage.

The rebels, who have faced persistent coalition bombing since March 2015 that has exacted a heavy civilian death toll, have stepped up missile and drone attacks across the border in recent weeks and warned that coalition airports were valid targets.

Prince Mohammed said Saudi Arabia would "not accept the presence of militias on its borders."

Riyadh has repeatedly accused Tehran of arming the rebels with sophisticated weapons, a charge the Islamic republic denies.

Source: Agence France Presse


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