TOKYO — One of the tankers that were attacked in the Gulf of Oman was struck by a flying object, the ship’s Japanese operator said on Friday, disputing at least part of the account of U.S. officials who had blamed Iran for the attack.
“Our crew said that the ship was attacked by a flying object,” said Yutaka Katada, the president of the operator, Kokuka Sangyo.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded that Tehran was behind the disabling of two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a vital conduit for much of the world’s oil. Senior U.S. officials had already blamed Iran for similar attacks last month against four tankers in the same area. Iranian officials denied any involvement in the events, which have escalated tensions in the region.
In an interview broadcast Friday by “Fox & Friends,” President Donald Trump directly accused Tehran, saying, “Iran did do it.”
“You saw the boat,” he said. “It has Iran written all over it.” Trump added: “They didn’t want the evidence left behind. They don’t know that we have things that we can detect in the dark that work very well. We have that. It was them that did it.”
U.S. officials released video on Thursday that they said showed an Iranian boat crew removing a limpet mine attached to the hull of the damaged Kokuka Courageous, a tanker operated by Kokuka Sangyo.
But Katada, citing accounts from the ship’s crew, said: “I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship.”
Pompeo did not say that mines had caused the two holes in the tanker’s hull that were visible in photographs released by the U.S. military, but U.S. officials have said that mines were used in the attacks last month.
Katada said that the holes in Kokuka Courageous were well above its waterline. “There is zero possibility that they were torpedoes,” he added.
Trump also addressed the possibility that Iran may somehow close the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway for a third of all crude oil by tanker.
“It’s not going to be closed for long, and they know it,” he said. “They’ve been told in strong terms. We want to get them back to the table if they want to go back. I’m ready when they are. I’m in no rush.”
On Friday, meanwhile, as other nations like China called for an easing of tensions in the region, Yemen’s Houthi faction launched its second attack in days against an airport in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis lead a coalition that is fighting the Houthis, who are backed by Iran, in Yemen’s civil war.
A Houthi television channel said the group had launched a drone attack on Abha International Airport, while the Saudi military said it had intercepted five Houthi drones and the airport was operating normally.
The Saudis said 26 people were injured in a Houthi strike on the same airport on Wednesday. The Houthis said that attack was carried out using a cruise missile.
The attacks in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday occurred as the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was meeting top officials in Iran, attempting to bridge the divide between Washington and Tehran.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, wrote Friday on Twitter that U.S. officials “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran” without evidence, showing that the United States and its allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were trying to “sabotage diplomacy.”
On Friday, the chief Cabinet secretary of the Japanese government, Yoshihide Suga, declined to state a position on what had happened to the tankers.
“It is true that we exchanging information in close communication with the U.S., but we are still in the process of gathering information, so I’ll refrain from making any prejudgments,” he said at a regular news briefing.
Without assigning blame, France’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday: “We call upon all of the involved stakeholders, with whom we are in permanent contact, to exercise restraint and to de-escalate. We also reiterate our commitment to the freedom of navigation, which must absolutely be preserved.”
But Britain is giving the U.S. explanation the benefit of the doubt, said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is seeking to become leader of the Conservative Party.
“This is deeply worrying and comes at a time of already huge tension,” Hunt said in a statement on Friday. “I have been in contact with Pompeo and, while we will be making our own assessment soberly and carefully, our starting point is obviously to believe our U.S. allies.”
Anwar Gargash, the minister of state for foreign affairs in the UAE wrote on Twitter Thursday that the attack was “a worrying development and a dangerous escalation that calls for the international community to move towards ensuring regional security and stability.”
A Dutch company, Boskalis, said it would salvage the two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. Royal Boskalis Westminster said in a statement Friday that the insurers of the tankers, the Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous, had appointed its subsidiary SMIT Salvage to salvage both vessels and their cargoes.
Boskalis said the situation of the Front Altair, which was carrying a petroleum product, was “still worrisome.” It added that the fire on board has been extinguished.
Later on Friday, Reuters reported that the Kokuka Courageous was being towed and heading toward the UAE’s port of Khor Fakkan, according to its operator, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement.