Iran blames US of 'warmongering' over Oman oil tank blasts

Iran has fired back at the US, saying allegations it is responsible for two suspected attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman are ‘baseless’.

In the second incident of the kind in just a month, a Norwegian and a Japanese tanker travelling through the Strait of Hormuz were significantly damaged in the blasts on Thursday.

The Norwegian-owned Front Altair, a 111,000-tonne vessel, was carrying ethanol from Qatar to Taiwan when its 23 crew members had to jump in the sea to escape the explosions.

The Japanese Kokuka Courageous was also targeted as it sailed the Strait, deemed the world’s most important shipping where hundreds of millions of dollars of oil pass through.

Iran’s official news agency IRNA said: ‘As the ship caught fire, 23 of the crew jumped into the water and were saved by a passing ship and handed over to the Iranian rescue unit’.

The US navy said it had provided assistance to 21 people from the Kokuka Courageous, with one reported to have been left with minor injuries.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was strong evidence of Iran’s culpability as a video released by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) showed an Iranian patrol boat ‘removing the unexploded limpet mine’ from the ship.

The Secretary of State said: ‘It is the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks.

‘This is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication,’ he said.

But Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Friday the US administration had ‘immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran without a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence’.

With tensions spiralling between Iran and the United States, the European Union called for ‘maximum restraint’ and UN chief Antonio Guterres warned the world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf.

The US called on the UN Security Council to face the ‘clear threat’ posed by Tehran as it gave its assessment on Thursday’s twin attacks.

Iran responded saying the US and its regional allies should stop ‘warmongering’.

The two countries have been in a diplomatic war since the US decided to pull out of Iran’s international nuclear deal.

The US imposed sanctions on Iran in May, mainly on its oil sector, to which the Gulf country retaliated by resuming some of the activity it had agreed to stop under the 2015 deal.

The US has since strengthened its presence in the Strait of Hormuz, which is vital for Iranian exports. Tehran responded accusing the US of aggressive behaviour.

The diplomatic rift was exacerbated by the May 12 attacks which saw four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates struck in what the Gulf country branded a  ‘sabotage attack’.

No casualties were reported after the tankers, some of which were from Saudi Arabia and Norway, were hit.

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