BEST OF THE WEB: Another Western Intel False Flag? Suspected Oil Tanker Attack in Gulf of Oman: What We Know So Far
The tensions in the Middle East are back up to boiling point after a second incident involving tankers along the world’s most important oil choke-point. So, here’s a round-up of all the relevant news that broke this day.
Two oil tankers were hit in an apparent attack in the Strait of Hormuz, about 70 nautical miles from the UAE port of Fujairah and about 14 nautical miles off Iran’s coast.
One of the vessels was the Aframax-class Kokuka Courageous tanker, registered in Panama and operated by the Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement.
The other was the Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker owned by Norway’s Frontline.
How Serious Was the Damage?
This is where some media outlets contradict each other.
Bernhard Schulte said that Kokuka Courageous was “safely afloat”, but its starboard hull was breached above the water line. Its 21 crew members had safely abandoned the tanker, with one crew member being slightly injured.
Kokuka’s cargo of methanol was intact, according to a spokesperson for the vessel’s manager.
Meanwhile, Iran’s state-run IRNA reported that Front Altair, which was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha, had sunk.
Frontline chief executive Robert Hvide Macleod was quick to debunk the report. “I can confirm that the vessel has NOT sunk,” he said in a statement to AFP, adding that the 23 people on board were “all safe.”
Maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global said the ship hadn’t sunk but was “on fire and adrift.” Aerial footage from the area appeared to show that a huge blaze resulted from the incident.
Who Rescued the Sailors?
While both Frontline and Bernhard Schulte confirmed that the crews were safe, controversy aroused as to who rescued them.
The IRNA reported that Iranian recuse teams evacuated the 44 sailors from both vessels and took them to the Iranian port of Jask. However, US officials were quoted by CBS as calling these claims “patently false.”
Shipping newspaper TradeWinds reported, citing sources that were close to the site, that Frontline’s crew was picked up by South Korean cargo ship Hyundai Dubai.
The US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet also reported earlier in the day that it was rendering assistance the vessels after they had sent distress signals to ports in the vicinity.
Was It an Attack?
There has been no immediate confirmation, but several sources suggest that the vessels were likely struck by torpedoes. Norway’s maritime authority said that Front Altair was “attacked” and there were three blasts reported.
Meanwehile, Tradewinds said, citing industry sources, that the two tankers were torpedoed.
Iranian media, which were among the first to break the news about the incident, said two consecutive explosions were heard in the area.
What Was the Reaction?
Unnamed US defence officials were quick to blame Tehran, telling CBS it was “highly likely Iran caused these attacks”.
According to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, Donald Trump has been briefed on the incident while the government “is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation”.
Russia has warned against “hasty conclusions” and “any attempts to lay the blame on those who are unwanted by a number of well-known states.”
Iran’s foreign minister said the timing of the suspected attacks is “suspicious” as they coincided with the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Iran to cool mounting tensions with the US.
His comments came shortly after the Japanese Trade Ministry said the two vessels had “Japan-related cargo”.
The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini called for “maximum restraint and avoiding any escalation on a military side”.
The United Kingdom expressed concerns about the incident and is now “in contact with local authorities and partners in the region”, according to a government spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian Maritime Authority called on its ships to maintain a safe distance from Iranian waters, while the country’s foreign ministry said that such incidents “contribute to a further escalation of tensions in the region”.
Investors are among the most sensitive observers, as usual; Oil prices jumped by 4 per cent on the news.
An Unsettling Trend
It comes just a month after another mysterious incident in the Gulf of Oman, in which four commercial vessels docked off the UAE coast were targeted by limpet mines placed by trained divers, according to Emirati investigators.
The UAE concluded that it was likely the work of a “state actor” but stopped short of naming Tehran. The United States, on the other hand, was quick to directly blame Iran. The rationale, top US officials said, was to raise global oil prices – a charge Tehran denied.
The US and Iran are embroiled in an escalating war of words and even military escalation, which followed Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and the introduction of crippling economic sanctions. Washington has been pursuing a “maximum pressure” policy, meant to bully Iran into negotiating a new nuclear deal, since Donald Trump believes the previous one did not stop the Islamic Republic from pursuing nuclear weapons development.
“We need to remember that some 30% of the world’s (seaborne) crude oil passes through the Straits. If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk.”
In response to the latest provocation in one the most strategically important regions in the entire world, Iran has called for an international effort to protect important waterways in the region.
Meanwhile, Moon of Alabama has given an interesting take on today’s attack:
A few tweets Iran’s Supreme Leader issued after his meeting with Prime Minister Abe today hint at a motive Iran might have to conduct something like the attack that happened today:
Khamenei.ir @khamenei_ir – 9:36 UTC – 13 Jun 2019
We do not believe at all that the U.S. is seeking genuine negotiations with Iran; because genuine negotiations would never come from a person like Trump. Genuineness is very rare among U.S. officials.
[email protected] U.S. president met & talked with you a few days ago, including about Iran. But after returning from Japan, he immediately imposed sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical industry. Is this a message of honesty? Does that show he is willing to hold genuine negotiations?
After the nuclear deal, the first one to immediately breach the JCPOA was Obama; the same person who had requested negotiations with Iran & had sent a mediator. This is our experience, & Mr. Abe, know that we won’t repeat the same experience.
The keyword here is “petrochemical”. The tankers hit today were loaded with naphta from the UAE and methanol from Saudi Arabia. Both are petrochemical products and not simply crude oil. Last Friday, June 7, the U.S. sanctioned all trade with Iran’s biggest petrochemical producer. These sanction will seriously hurt Iran.
When the Trump administration began to sanction Iran’s oil export last year, Iran announced new rules of the game. It said that it would retaliate against other Persian Gulf producers should Iran be unable to export its goods:
Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a vital artery for oil shipments from the Middle East. The warning comes in response to the US, which is trying to cut off Iranian crude exports.
Iran’s supreme leader’s senior adviser for international affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati said his country will retaliate.
“The most transparent, complete and prompt response was given by Mr [Hassan] Rouhani, the Iranian president, in his last trip to Europe. The response was clear: if Iran cannot export oil through the Persian Gulf, no-one will do this,” Velayati said, speaking at the Valdai discussion club in Russia. “Either everyone will export, or no-one,” he added.
Now we can apply the keyword Khamenei used today to these sentences: “if Iran cannot export petrochemical products through the Persian Gulf, no-one will do this”. “Either everyone will export, or no-one.”
That Iran might have this motive does not mean or prove that it is responsible for today’s attack. Risking to sink two foreign tankers in international water is not what an otherwise cautious Iran would typically do. Someone else might have initiated it to blame it.
Still – no matter if Iran was involved – what Khamenei said is a very serious message that Abe, who Trump sent to Iran, will understand and communicate back to the White House.
It still seems incredibly unlikely that Iran would be behind this attack. It’s not their MO, but it certainly is the MO of Western intel agencies. A false flag to demonize Iran is right in the CIA/Mossad’s wheelhouse. A great deal of interested parties have noted how a Gulf of Tonkin-style attack could take place in the Strait of Hormuz to escalate tensions and get the Western population to accept a war against Iran. Could this be part of that plan?