WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington believes Iran is behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
The top US diplomat told reporters in Washington that the attacks on the ships are part of a “campaign” of “escalating tension” by Iran and a threat to international peace and security.
“It is the assessment by the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.
“This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”
Pompeo added that the US will defend its forces and interests in the region, but he provided no specifics about any plans and took no questions.
The two tankers were both hit “at or below the waterline, in close proximity to the engine room while underway,” according to the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, CNN reported.
The crew of the guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge reported that they saw an unexploded limpet mine on the side of one of the ships, a US defense official familiar with the incident told CNN.
Limpet mines, which are attached to a hull using magnets, also were suspected to have been used in an attack last month on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE determined that a “state actor” was most likely responsible, and chemical analysis of recovered debris revealed “it was highly likely that limpet mines were deployed.”
A spokesman for US Central Command said 21 crew members rescued from the oil tanker Kokuka Courageous are now aboard the Bainbridge, which was in international waters when it received a distress call about 6 a.m. local time.
Naval Forces Central Command also received a distress call from the Front Altair, whose shipping company said earlier that the crew was safely evacuated.