FUJAIRAH, United Arab Emirates (Reuters) – US Navy showed Wednesday's limpet mine fragments and a magnet as it said it had removed from one of two oil tankers attacked in the Gulf of Oman last week and said that the mines bore a striking resemblance to Iranian ones.
An Emirates official sees members of the US Navy Fifth Fleet as they prepare to escort journalists to the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous tanker at a US NAVCENT facility near the port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates on June 19, 2019 REUTERS / Christopher Pike
The United States has attempted to build an international consensus that Iran was behind last week's explosions and a May 12 strike on four oil tankers off the United Arab Emirates.
Tehran has denied involvement in both attacks near the Hormuz Strait, an important transit route for global oil supplies, but the events have raised fears of major confrontation in the Gulf region.
The US military has previously released images showing that Iran's Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) removed an unexplored limpet mine from the Japanese-owned tanker Kokuka Courageous, which was hit by explosions alongside the Norwegian-owned Front Altair ship on the 13th. June.
"The limpet mine used in the attack can be distinguished and also reliably bears resemblance to Iranian mines that have already been publicly exhibited in Iranian military parades," said Commander Sean Kido, commander of an explosive ordinance dive and rescue mission group in Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT).
He spoke to journalists at a NAVCENT facility near the UAE port of Fujairah. Small fragments said to have been removed from Kokuka Courageous were shown along with a magnet allegedly left by the IRCG team allegedly recorded on video.
NO "FLYING OBJECT"
The Japanese company that owns Kokuka Courageous had said its ship was damaged by two "flying objects", but NAVCENT rejected it.
"The damage of the explosive hole is consistent with a memory attack, it is not consistent with an external flying object hitting the ship," Kido said, adding that seam holes visible in the hull showed that the mine was attached to the ship.
The location of the mine over the ship's waterline showed that the intention was not to sink the vessel, he said.
Kido also said that NAVCENT had collected biometric information, including fingerprints from the ship's hull, which would help build a criminal case.
He said the United States worked with regional partners on a "joint and combined study", but declined to mention the countries that participated.
Washington and Riyadh have publicly blamed Iran for last week's attacks and sabotage last month by four ships, including two Saudi tankers, off Fujairah, a major bunkering hub. Several European countries have said that more evidence is needed.
UAE has said an inquiry to the attack on May 12 pointed to a state actor without mentioning a country. This study said it was very likely that limpet mines were being placed by trained divers, was the reason.
"The dynamics of the two attacks are not clear, and the video that the US said showed Iran's role was not clear either," a Western diplomat told Gulf Reuters.
"The European line is that de-escalation (from possible conflict) must be a priority. Abu Dhabi is highly in line with the EU's views on this," the diplomat said.
US. State Secretary Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that Washington would maintain its press campaign over Iran and continue to deter aggression in the region, but does not want the confrontation with Tehran to escalate.
The United States said Monday that it would send about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East, in addition to a 1,500 troop rise announced last month that it said it was caused by Iranian threats.
A Western military source told Reuters that countries with military personnel based in the Gulf are waiting for the US to make efforts to increase security in Gulf waters. Frontline, who runs Front Altair, said on Tuesday that the vessel was in stable condition anchored by Fujairah and that it was working with third parties, including government officials, to determine the cause of the explosion. It eliminated mechanical or human error. "Until further information on the cause of the explosion has been received and the security of this important route is secured, Frontline will be extremely cautious when considering new contracts in the region," it said in a statement.
Further reporting by Abdelhadi al-Ramahi, Sylvia Westall and Davide Barbuscia in Dubai; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing of Ghaida Ghantous and Mark Heinrich