The Japanese owner of the Kokuka Courageous, one of the vessels attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf of Oman on June 13, said their sailors saw “flying objects” immediately before the attacks.
The claim from Yutaka Katada, the President of Kokuka Sangyo, a company that owns and operates ships that transport liquid chemicals, contradicts the claims by the United States military that said the attacks resulted from an Iranian naval mine.
Katada told reporters on Friday that before the oil tanker caught fire the sailors witnessed “flying objects” and it was hit twice, reported the Associated Press (AP).
Katada said the flying objects could be bullets and refuted that the attack was caused by mines or torpedoes since the damage to the ship was above the waterline.
The company’s president offered no evidence for his claim. He also said crew members saw an Iranian naval ship nearby but did not specify whether this was before or after the attacks.
All the 21 Filipino sailors were rescued from Kokuka Courageous to a U.S. warship, the USS Bainbridge. The crew stayed on the destroyer overnight and returned to their vessel on Friday to help it being towed.
US Says Iran is Behind the Attack
The United States military released a video on Friday that showed how Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removed an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, suggesting Tehran wanted to hide evidence of its alleged involvement.
“Iran did do it,” President Donald Trump said of the attack, in remarks Friday morning to “Fox & Friends.”
Trump also warned Iran not to close off the strait, saying if it does so, it won’t be shut for long.
Iran accused Washington of waging an “Iranophobic campaign” against it, while Trump countered that the country was “a nation of terror.”
The black-and-white U.S. video of the Iranians alongside the Japanese-owned tanker Kokuka Courageous came after its crew abandoned ship after seeing the undetonated explosive on its hull, said Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command.
In the video, the boat from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard pulls alongside Kokuka Courageous at 4:10 p.m. Thursday. The Iranians reach up and grab along where the limpet mine could be seen in the photo. They then sail away.
Limpet mines, which are magnetic and attach to a ship’s hull, are designed to disable a vessel without sinking it.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said intelligence reports contributed to the assessment by U.S. military that Iran was behind the attacks.
“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” Pompeo said. He didn’t elaborate.
In the latest developments, the British government said it agrees with the U.S. military that Tehran is responsible for the attacks.
The British foreign office said its assessment proves that “it is almost certain that a branch of the Iranian military,” was behind the attacks, reported AP.
Response by the Japanese Government
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the attacks as a threat to safe maritime navigation.
“Japan adamantly condemns the act that threatened a Japanese ship, no matter who attacked,” he said on Friday, according to AP.
He requested “all related countries” to avoid escalating tension in the region and said Japan will help to de-escalate the tension.
Japan’s Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told media in a press conference that the attacks don’t pose a threat to Japan and that the Japanese government has no intention to send its troops to retaliate.
He said he doesn’t think “Self-Defense Force has a necessarily role to play at this point and we don’t plan to send them to the Strait of Hormuz region in response to the attacks.”
Abe made the remarks after telephone calls with President Donald Trump, briefing him on his Iran visit this week, without elaborating. He pledged to keep cooperating with Trump.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.