During the early morning hours of June 13th, two tankers came under attack as they traversed the Gulf of Oman. The Norwegian-owned M/T Altair and the Japanese-owned M/T Kokuka Courageous were damaged by what appears to be Iranian limpet mines.
The discovery of Iranian mines in international waters has raised tensions in the area.
According to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), U.S. Navy ships received two separate calls for assistance. The first call took place at 06:12 local time and came from the M/T Altair, while the second call came almost an hour later from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.
At the time of the incidents, both vessels were sailing approximately ten nautical miles apart in international waters in the Gulf of Oman. The guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, which responded to the distress calls, was situated about 40 nautical miles from the M/T Altair at the time of the attack.
As the American ship steamed toward the damaged tankers, U.S. Navy aircraft overflew the area and spotted an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps patrol boat (Hendijan-class) and numerous smaller Fast-Attack Craft/Fast Inshore Attack Craft circling the M/T Altair. CENTCOM states that the Iranian vessels proceeded to “pull a raft from the M/T Altair from the water” before requesting from the Hyundai Dubai, a motor vessel that had rescued the M/T Altair crew, to hand over the sailors. The captain of Hyundai Dubai complied with the request.
Meanwhile, the Dutch-flagged Coastal Ace had rescued the 21-man crew of M/T Kokuka Courageous. As the USS Bainbridge approached the Coastal Ace to take over the rescued crew, the Iranian patrol boat tried to get there first and take the crew. The American ship, however, was faster.
Then, additional Iranian patrol boats sailed to the hot spot. Some were seen trying to remove unexploded limpet mines from the damaged tankers in an attempt to remove any evidence that could incriminate Iran. Overflying U.S. aircraft, however, recorded their actions.
In a statement, Navy Captain Bill Urban, the lead spokesman for CENTCOM, said: “The U.S. and our partners in the region will take all necessary measures to defend ourselves and our interests. Today’s attacks are a clear threat to international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce. The U.S. and the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation. The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.”
A BSM Ship Management representative, the managing company of M/T Kokuka Courageous, said in a statement to Reuters that the vessel “remains in the area and is not in any danger of sinking. The cargo of methanol is intact.”
M/T Kokuka Courageous is about 14 nautical miles off the coast of Iran.