Two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, following an attack last month that damaged four tankers in the same area.
Both tankers sustained significant damage. The crews of the two vessels were evacuated, and one member of the Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous crew was injured as a result of the attack. Iranian media reported that the country’s Navy assisted in the rescue operation.
— Arab News (@arabnews) June 13, 2019
It is not clear at present what hit the vessels, which were off the coast of Iran. Nor is it known who is responsible. A U.S. defense official told CNN, “The U.S. at this hour has not ruled out the ships may have hit a mine in the water, or were attacked by a projectile. They are trying to determine the cause.”
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on his social media page, “Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning,” noting that the attacks occurred while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran for dialogue with Iranian officials. Prime Minister Abe has been hoping to ease tensions in the region, which have spiked this year.
Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.
Iran's proposed Regional Dialogue Forum is imperative.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 13, 2019
Thursday’s tanker attacks follow similar incidents off the coast of Fujairah, UAE, last month on May 12. Four vessels were hit in those attacks, reportedly by mines or other underwater explosives, which the UAE blamed on a “state actor” without further specifying. Some American officials have gone further and point to Iran as behind the May 12 attacks. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said in regard to the May 12 attacks while visiting the UAE, “I think it is clear these were naval mines, almost certainly from Iran.”
Elsewhere in the region, Ansar Allah, a Yemeni rebel group backed by Iran, fired a missile at Abha Airport in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, injuring 26 civilians.
Washington, which last year left a nuclear accord signed with Iran and world powers, has been seeking to reduce Iranian oil exports by exerting pressure on buyers of Iranian crude. In early May, prior to the May 12 incident, the U.S. ended sanctions waivers for top importers of Iranian oil as part of the effort to tighten restrictions on Iran. Tehran, meanwhile, has warned that it will close the Strait of Hormuz, adjacent to the Gulf of Oman, should it be prevented from transiting the waterway.
Recently, Iran has signaled that it will relax compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Iranian government has increased uranium enrichment. In a statement earlier this week, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Jackie Wolcott, said, “The United States calls on Iran to return to compliance without delay. We understand the JCPOA Joint Commission is treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves, and we urge the JCPOA participants to address this issue as soon as possible.”
She reiterated that Washington remains open to dialogue with Iranian officials, but Iran has rebuffed talks that are not based on the 2015 nuclear agreement.