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Sat 15 Jun 2019 05:13 PM

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Tanker hit in Gulf attacks heads to UAE port

Kokuka Courageous was carrying highly flammable methanol through the Gulf of Oman when it was rocked by explosions

Tanker hit in Gulf attacks heads to UAE port

A Japanese tanker, one of two vessels attacked in sensitive Gulf waters this week, was heading to port Saturday, its owners said.

The United Arab Emirates called on world powers "to secure international navigation and access to energy" after the incident Thursday, which sent crude prices soaring amid a tense standoff between Iran and the US.

The Kokuka Courageous was carrying highly flammable methanol through the Gulf of Oman when was rocked by explosions, causing a blaze that was quickly extinguished.

US President Donald Trump said the twin attack, which also targeted a tanker owned by Oslo-listed company Frontline, had Iran "written all over it".

He was speaking hours after the US military released grainy footage it said showed an Iranian patrol boat removing an "unexploded limpet mine" from one of the tankers.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to block the Hormuz Strait, a narrow seaway vital to the world's oil supplies, in the case of a conflict with the US.

But the UAE's Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, whose country is bitterly opposed to Iranian influence in the region, called Saturday for a de-escalation in tensions.

"We remain hopeful in attaining a broader framework for cooperation with Iran," he said at a summit in Bulgaria.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said an "international consensus" was needed to resolve the situation.

The Japanese tanker's Tokyo-based operator Kokuka confirmed Saturday the vessel was heading to port in the United Arab Emirates.

"We still don't know if the tanker goes to Khor Fakkan or Fujairah as they are very close," said a spokesman, referring to two Emirati ports on the Gulf of Oman.

Maritime experts would then seek to transfer its highly flammable cargo to shore, according to an unnamed official quoted by Japanese state media.

"From a viewpoint of global energy security, it is necessary for the international community to jointly deal with the act," said Japanese trade minister Hiroshige Seko at a G20 energy and environment meeting in Japan on Saturday.

The other ship which came under attack, the Norwegian-operated Front Altair, was being towed away from Iranian waters and would undergo a damage assessment later Saturday, said a spokeswoman for its operator.

"The 23 crew members of the 'Front Altair' remain safe and well, with plans being made for their repatriation soonest," she added.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the US had "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran without a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence."

The United States has also accused Iran over May 12 sabotage attacks on four tankers anchored in the Gulf of Oman off Fujairah.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation.

"It's very important to know the truth (and) that responsibilities are clarified," he told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.

"Obviously that can only be done if there is an independent entity that verifies those facts."

The oil tankers hit Thursday morning were 10 nautical miles apart and headed to Asia when they were struck by explosions after passing through the Strait of Hormuz, some 25 nautical miles off Iran's southern coast.

The Front Altair was carrying naphtha, a refined petroleum product, when it was hit by three explosions, according to Norwegian officials.

Blocking the Hormuz Strait would be a relatively low-tech, high-impact countermeasure Iran could take against any attack by the United States, and would severely disrupt global oil supplies.

But Trump played down the threat.

"It's not going to be closed, it's not going to be closed for long and they know it. They've been told in very strong terms," he said.

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