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‘Thorough, impartial, objective probe’

An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman on June 13. Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and the other adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the US Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. (AP)

NEW YORK, June 16, (Agencies): Kuwait reiterated condemnation of ‘‘criminal” attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Kuwait’s Permanent Representative to UN Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi, in remarks to KUNA late Saturday, said, “Kuwait had; in numerous occasions, strongly condemned those attacks.” All UNSC members unanimously called the incident a criminal act and violation to international law, Al-Otaibi told reporters following the Council’s consultations session on latest agendas regarding the attack in the Gulf of Oman last Friday. “We would want to see thorough, impartial, and objective investigation to take place, and know who stands behind these actions,” he pointed out.

Last Thursday, explosions ripped through two oil tankers, Norwegian and Singaporean, in the Gulf of Oman. Crew members from a Norwegian-owned oil tanker apparently attacked in the Gulf of Oman landed Saturday in Dubai after two days in Iran as the other tanker targeted in the assault limped into anchorage off the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates.

Both the mariners’ recollection and the physical evidence remaining on the MT Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous, now off the coast of Fujairah, will play an important role in determining who the international community blames for Thursday’s explosions on board the oil tankers. Already, the US has blamed Iran for what it described as an attack with limpet mines on the two tankers, pointing to black-and-white footage it captured that American officials describe as Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops removing an unexploded mine from the Kokuka Courageous.

Tehran rejects the allegation, instead accusing the US under President Donald Trump of pursuing an “Iranophobic” campaign against it. However, Iran previously used mines against oil tankers in 1987 and 1988 in the “Tanker War,” which saw the US Navy escort ships through the region – something American officials may consider doing again. In a new allegation Saturday, the US military accused Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops of trying but failing to shoot down a US drone to disrupt surveillance of the tankers during the attacks. All this comes after four other oil tankers off Fujairah suffered similar attacks in recent weeks, and Iranian-allied rebels from Yemen have struck US ally Saudi Arabia with drones and missiles. Late Saturday, Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed a new drone attack targeting Saudi Arabia, the latest in their recent campaign that has stepped up amid the Mideast tensions. Yahia al-Sarie, a Houthi spokesman, said their drones targeted airports in Jizan and Abha in Saudi Arabia. Early Sunday, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said it shot down a drone near the Abha regional airport, but did not acknowledge the Jizan claim.

The Houthis say they launched a cruise missile that struck the Abha airport Wednesday, an attack Saudi Arabia says wounded 26 people. Damage assessment on Japan’s Kokuka Courageous and preparation for ship-to-ship transfer of its methanol cargo would start after authorities in Sharjah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates, complete security checks, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said.

Thursday’s attacks, which also hit Norwegian tanker Front Altair, have heightened tensions between Iran and the United States and its Gulf allies after similar blasts in May struck four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the UAE. In a show of military strength, the Royal Saudi Air Force fl ew in joint formation with US F-15 fighter jets over the Gulf Arab region, Saudi state news agency SPA said on Sunday. Tehran has denied any involvement in the attacks near the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit route for global oil supplies. It was not clear who would take part in assessing the tankers.

After the May 12 attacks, in which a Norwegian-registered tanker was also hit, the UAE launched an investigation in cooperation with the United States, Saudi Arabia, Norway and France, which has a naval base in Abu Dhabi. The UAE has said the probe shows that a state actor was behind last month’s operation, without naming a country, and that naval mines were most likely used. The United States and Saudi Arabia have directly blamed Iran for the attacks on the six vessels. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday urged the international community to take a “decisive stand” but said Riyadh does not want a war. The attacks have raised fears of broader confrontation in the region where the United States has boosted its military presence over perceived Iranian threats.

Almost certain’
Foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on Sunday Britain is “almost certain” Iran was behind attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, adding that London did not believe anyone else could have done it. On Saturday, Iran summoned the British ambassador to Tehran after London blamed it for the attacks, the semi-official Students News Agency ISNA reported.

Asked whether Iran was behind the attacks on the tankers, Hunt told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “We have done our own intelligence assessment and the phrase we used is almost certain … We don’t believe anyone else could have done this.” “We are urging all sides to de-escalate.” Saudi Arabia called for swift action to secure Gulf energy supplies and joined the United States in blaming Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in a vital shipping route that have raised fears of broader confrontation in the region. Thursday’s tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman exacerbated the antagonistic fallout from similar blasts in May that crippled four vessels. Washington, already embroiled in a standoff with Iran over its nuclear programme, has blamed Tehran and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince also accused Iran on Saturday. Iran has denied any role in the strikes on the tankers south of the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit route for oil from Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, and other Gulf producers.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said there must be “a rapid and decisive response to the threat” to energy supplies, market stability and consumer confidence, his ministry said on Twitter. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an interview with Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, blamed Iran and called on the international community to take a “decisive stand” against the attacks. “The Kingdom does not want a war in the region but it will not hesitate to deal with any threats to its people, its sovereignty, or its vital interests,” the crown prince said. Oil prices have climbed 3.4 percent since Thursday’s attacks. Ship insurers said insurance costs for ships sailing through the Middle East have jumped by at least 10 percent.

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said in Japan at a meeting of energy ministers from the G20 group of nations that the Kingdom is committed to ensuring stability of global oil markets. Japanese Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said ministers agreed on the need to “work together to deal with the recent incidents from (an) energy security point of view.” The Middle East stands on the precipice of war where any event could spark an all-out conflict, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned, in the wake of a spate of attacks on oil tankers in the region. There is an urgent need to quell hostilities in order to avoid an armed conflict, he was cited by the BBC as saying, pointing out that the US has no desire for war as well. He urged Iran to cease its hostile activities that have plunged the region into instability, holding the Islamic Republic accountable for attacks on a pair of oil tankers in a vital shipping route last week. Two oil tankers were attacked on Thursday in the Gulf of Oman, driving up oil prices and stoking fears of a war in the region.

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