The US Navy says mines used to carry out a Gulf tanker attack ‘bear a striking resemblance’ to those used by Iran, as investigators retrieve fingerprints from the ship.
The Navy today displayed limpet mine fragments and a magnet removed from one of two oil tankers attacked in the Gulf of Oman last Thursday.
‘The limpet mine that was used in the attack is distinguishable and also strikingly bearing a resemblance to Iranian mines that have already been publicly displayed in Iranian military parades,’ said Commander Sean Kido at the Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), near the Fujairah port in the UAE.
He added that fingerprints retrieved from the stricken Japanese vessel would be used to mount a criminal case.
Iran has denied being involved in the attack last week that struck the Kokuka Courageous tanker and also the Norwegian-owned Front Altair.
The Japanese Kokuka Courageous – it was attacked along with the Norwegian Front Altair in the Gulf of Oman last Thursday
Items collected by the US Navy from the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous tanker are displayed at a UAE Naval facility near the port of Fujairah
Evidence retrieved from the attack on the Japanese vessel included explosives fragments and a magnet – the Americans say the technology bear a ‘striking resemblance’ to that deployed by Iran
Red handed? The Pentagon says this is a handprint from an individual who removed an unexploded limpet mine from the side of the Kokuka Courageous
The comments by Kido came as the Navy showed reporters pieces of debris and a magnet they say Iran’s Revolutionary Guard left behind when they spirited away an unexploded limpet mine after the June 13 attack in the Gulf of Oman. Iran has also not acknowledged taking the mine.
Kido also stressed that the damage done to the Kokuka Courageous was ‘not consistent with an external flying object hitting the ship,’ despite the ship’s owner blaming ‘flying objects’ for the damage in the attack.
Meanwhile, a rocket hit an oil-drilling site in Iraq’s southern Basra province early on Wednesday, striking inside a compound housing energy giant Exxon Mobil and other foreign oil companies and wounding three local workers, one seriously, Iraqi officials said.
The attack on the oil tankers comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran since President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers a year ago.
An item the US say was found on the Japanese-owned ship, a magnet used to apply a limpet charge
An investigator at US Navy central command in the UAE holds an explosives fragment recovered in the investigaiton
Iran recently has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the deal.
In recent weeks, the U.S. has sped an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already here. Mysterious attacks also have targeted oil tankers as Iranian-allied Houthi rebels launch bomb-laden drones into Saudi Arabia.
All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.
The U.S. Navy briefed foreign journalists on Wednesday at a 5th Fleet base near Fujairah, an Emirati port city some 130 miles northeast of the capital, Abu Dhabi.
There, they showed journalists debris recovered from the Kokuka Courageous, which they described as including aluminium and composite metals.
They also showed a magnet they described as being left behind by the Revolutionary Guard, one of six apparently sticking the unexploded limpet mine to the ship’s hull. Sailors said it took two of them and a crowbar to pry it off the ship.
Those pieces put together have U.S. sailors suspecting the limpet mine came from Iran.
Blast damage to M/T Kokuka Courageous after it was attacked in the Gulf of Oman last Thursday
Part of device: The Pentagon released this image of what it says is aluminium and green composite left attached to the Courageous when the limpet mine was removed
Seen from space: This is the Kokuka Courageous anchored on Monday offshore at the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates
An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran on Thursday – Donald Trump has said the two attacks had Iran ‘written all over it’
They showed a picture previously shared among weapons experts of a limpet mine on display in Iran, which they said resembled the one they suspected was used on the ship. That picture showed a conical mine, some 42 kilograms (90 pounds) in weight, on display with a sign next to it identifying it as being produced by a research company affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard.
‘The limpet mine that was used does bear a striking resemblance to that which has been publicly displayed in Iranian military parades,’ Kido said. ‘There are distinguishing features.’
Kido declined to elaborate. Iran’s mission to the U.N. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The mines were placed above the water line. One exploded, punching through the double-hulled ship and sparking a brief fire. The placement of the mines on the vessel makes it ‘not appear that the intention was to sink the vessel,’ Kido said.
‘The damage we observed is consistent with a limpet mine attack, it is not consistent with an external flying object hitting the ship,’ Kido said.
Authorities also recovered a hand print and fingerprints, he said. ‘We recovered biometric information … which can be used to build a criminal case to hold the individuals responsible accountable.’ He did not elaborate.
Port side damage: This is one of the new images of the impact on the Courageous. ‘Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine,’ Central Command said in a statement Tuesday
View from the inside: This is what the U.S. military says is the damage to the Kokuka Courageous caused by a limpet mine allegedly planted by Iranian Revolutionary Guards
Blast: The military released new images of what it says is hull penetration and blast damage on the starboard side of the Japanese owned tanker Kokuka Courageous, which was sustained on June 13 and photographed by the U.S. the next day
The second vessel involved in the attack, the Norwegian-owned Front Altair, caught fire and sent black smoke up into the air that was visible from space by satellites. Kido did not explain why the U.S. had no immediate evidence from that vessel. Both are now anchored off the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates.
He also declined to discuss an earlier, May 12 attack on four oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah near the U.S. base, which America similarly blames on an Iranian limpet mine attack. Analysts also believe those attacks came from limpet mines.
In Iraq on Wednesday, a Katyusha rocket landed at dawn in the Zubair and Rumeila oil fields camp, operated by the Iraqi Drilling company, where Exxon Mobil and other foreign oil companies have caravans housing their workers, security official Mahdi Raykan said.
Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, Texas, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In May, it evacuated staff from the West Qurna 1 oil field in Basra province.
As Washington-Tehran tensions escalated, there have been concerns that Iraq could once again get caught in the middle between its two top allies. The country hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those U.S. forces to leave.
In May, the U.S. evacuated nonessential diplomatic staff from Iraq. That came before a missile landed in Baghdad’s Green Zone, near the sprawling U.S. Embassy.
No one claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack and Iraqi oil exports were unaffected.
Timeline: Escalation in the Gulf region
May 5: The U.S. says it is sending the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group and a bomber task force to the Middle East because of a ‘credible threat’ from Iran.
Since then Washington has announced the dispatch to the region of an amphibious assault ship, a Patriot missile battery and an extra 1,500 troops.
May 8: Iran vows to enrich its uranium stockpile closer to weapons-grade levels starting July 7 if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its nuclear deal.
The U.S. responds by imposing fresh sanctions on Iran’s steel and mining sectors.
Smoke pours from the Norwegian-owned oil tanker on Thursday after it was hit by an explosion near the UAE and Iran in an apparent attack which has put the Middle East on high alert
May 12: Two Saudi oil tankers and two other ships are damaged in mysterious ‘sabotage attacks’ off the coast of Fujairah, part of the United Arab Emirates.
Washington believes Iran is to blame for the attacks, but Tehran denies involvement.
May 14: Yemen’s pro-Iranian Huthi rebels carry out drone attacks near Riyadh, shutting down a key Saudi oil pipeline.
Two days later Saudi-led coalition air strikes hit the rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa.
The next day the U.S. orders all non-emergency diplomats to leave Iraq, due to an ‘imminent’ threat from Iranian-linked Iraqi militias.
May 19: Trump warns that if Iran attacks American interests ‘that will be the official end of Iran’.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says the ‘genocidal taunts’ of U.S. Trump will not ‘end Iran’.
May 27: Trump says the U.S. is ‘not looking for regime change’ in Iran.
May 30: Saudi Arabia – which accuses Iran of being behind the acts of sabotage and the drone attack in May – gets the backing of Arab leaders in its standoff with Tehran at summits organised by Riyadh.
Iran accuses Riyadh of ‘sowing division’.
Inferno: A fire rages on board the oil tanker MT Front Altair after it was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, in what has been described as a torpedo attack
June 6: The UAE says a multinational investigation into the sabotage attacks point to the likelihood a state was behind them, without incriminating Iran.
June 12: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives in Tehran in a bid to mediate between Washington and Tehran.
A Yemeni rebel missile attack on an airport at Abha, in southwestern Saudi Arabia, wounds 26 civilians. The Saudis accuse Iran of supplying the weapon.
June 13: Two tankers, Norwegian and Japanese, are hit by explosions in apparent attacks in the Gulf of Oman.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet says that it received two separate distress calls from the tankers in a ‘reported attack’.
Foreign Minister Zarif says the tanker ‘attacks’ as Abe visits are ‘suspicious’.
Mr Abe meets Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who tells him: ‘I don’t consider Trump as a person worthy of exchanging messages with. I have no response for him and will not answer him.’