Conflicting Accounts of Attacks on Tankers in the Gulf of Oman

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo closes his remarks as he departs after a media availability, at the State Department, Thursday, June 13, 2019, in Washington. Pompeo says Iran is believed to be responsible for attacks on 2 tankers near Persian Gulf. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Attacks on two tanker ships in the Gulf of Oman Wednesday were done with limpet mines, or artillery shells, or maybe a torpedo, according to conflicting accounts.

Early reports following the attacks by South Korean investigators claimed a torpedo was used to strike one of the ships, a Norwegian-owned tanker. Officials in other countries doubt the claim, most notably the US, who has fingered Iran as the most likely culprit.

A video released late Thursday by American officials shows a small boat docking alongside the damaged Japanese ship under cover of darkness and removing what could be an unexploded limpet mine. American officials claim the vessel belongs to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite military unit recently labeled a terrorist organization by the US.

Sailors aboard the USS Bainbridge, one of the first ships to respond, claim to have seen the unexploded mine on the Japanese tanker. The video was shot by US surveillance aircraft.

The crew on board the Japanese vessel, on the other hand, claim projectiles that seemed like artillery shells struck the ship twice, with both impacts hitting above the waterline.

At this time, investigators have not ruled out shelling or mines, but believe the use of torpedos to be highly unlikely. Officials from United Arab Emirates, Norway, and the United States have claimed that the attacks appear targeted and deliberate.

Neither ship was damaged in such a way as to ignite the petrochemical cargo or sink the vessels. The explosions appear aimed at engine rooms, which would stop the ship but not destroy it.

Last month, four tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman using what was most likely limpet mines. Limpet mines require skilled, trained divers and knowledge of the construction of the ship to be effective. Several countries, including Norway and UAE who both have seen ships under their flag attacked, believe the incidents were state-sponsored.

Iran has been blamed for dozens of terror-related attacks in recent months. Wednesday’s attacks appear to have been timed to coincide with meetings held between the Japanese Prime Minister and Iranian leaders.

Iran has emphatically denied their involvement in the previous attacks and denies any role in the explosions Wednesday that further strained already troubled diplomatic relations with the United States.