Damaged Japanese tanker under Singapore-based firm arrives at UAE anchorage after Gulf attack

The tanker Kokuka Courageous, which was one of two ships that came under attack while in Gulf waters, arrived at Sharjah, UAE, on June 16, 2019.
The tanker Kokuka Courageous, which was one of two ships that came under attack while in Gulf waters, arrived at Sharjah, UAE, on June 16, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

DUBAI (AFP) - A damaged Japanese tanker arrived on Sunday (June 16) at an anchorage site in the United Arab Emirates after it was rocked by explosions in Gulf waters as Saudi Arabia accused arch-rival Iran of being behind the attack.

The Kokuka Courageous was carrying highly flammable methanol through the Gulf of Oman last Thursday (June 13) when it came under attack along with the Norwegian-operated Front Altair - the second assault in a month in the strategic shipping lane.

United States President Donald Trump has said the twin attacks had Iran "written all over it" - rejecting Teheran's vehement denial. Its key Gulf ally Saudi Arabia has also lashed out against Teheran.

In his first public comments since the attacks, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in remarks published on Sunday that he "won't hesitate" to tackle any threats to the oil-rich kingdom.

"We do not want a war in the region... But we won't hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity and our vital interests," he told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

"The Iranian regime did not respect the presence of the Japanese prime minister as a guest in Teheran and responded to his (diplomatic) efforts by attacking two tankers, one of which was Japanese."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Teheran at the time of the attacks.

Last Friday, the US military released grainy footage it said showed an Iranian patrol boat removing an "unexploded limpet mine" from one of the tankers.

"Kokuka Courageous has arrived safely at the designated anchorage at Sharjah," the vessel's Singapore-based BSM Ship Management said in a statement on Sunday.

The crew, who remained on board, were "safe and well", it said.

A damage assessment and preparations for transferring the ship's cargo would start "once the port authorities have completed their standard security checks and formalities", it added.


BSM Ship Management had said earlier that Kokuka Courageous was heading towards the Kalba anchorage on the eastern coast of the UAE, facing the Gulf of Oman.

The other ship, the Front Altair, has left Iran's territorial waters, multiple sources said on Saturday.

It was "heading towards the Fujairah-Khor Fakkan area in the United Arab Emirates", the ports chief of Iran's southern province of Hormozgan told the semi-official news agency ISNA.

A spokesman for Frontline Management, the Norwegian company which owns the ship, said "all 23 crew members of the tanker departed Iran" and flew to Dubai on Saturday.

The UAE's Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Saturday called on world powers "to secure international navigation and access to energy", a plea echoed by regional ally Saudi Arabia after the incident sent crude prices soaring.

Last Thursday's attacks took place south-east of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital corridor connecting the energy-rich states of the Middle East with markets in Asia, Europe, North America and elsewhere.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), 35 per cent of the world's seaborne oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran, which is struggling with crippling US sanctions, repeatedly warned in the past that it could block the strait in a relatively low-tech, high-impact countermeasure to any attack by the US.

Doing so would disrupt oil tankers travelling out of the Gulf region to the Indian Ocean and global export routes.

The Saudi crown prince also accused "Iran and its proxies" over May 12 attacks on four tankers anchored in the Gulf of Oman off the UAE port of Fujairah.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said London had concluded Iran was "almost certainly" responsible for last Thursday's tanker attacks.

Iran's foreign ministry responded on Saturday by summoning British Ambassador Rob Macaire over Mr Hunt's "false remarks" and chided London for its "blind and precipitous alignment" with US views, a statement said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last week that there is no "shred of factual or circumstantial evidence" to blame Teheran for the attacks.

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