This post has been updated with a statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The crew of a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer rescued 21 merchant mariners from a tanker that was allegedly attacked in the Gulf of Oman, officials told USNI News on Thursday afternoon.
USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) responded to a Thursday morning distress call from the tanker M/V Kokuka Courageous, according to U.S. Central Command spokesman Army Lt. Col. Earl Brown.
“U.S. Naval Forces Central Command received the calls from the M/V Front Altair and M/V Kokuka Courageous, who were operating in international waters of the Gulf of Oman,” he said in a statement to USNI News. “USS Bainbridge was operating in the vicinity and provided immediate assistance to the M/V Kokuka Courageous. Twenty-one mariners from the M/V Kokuka Courageous, who abandoned ship, are currently aboard USS Bainbridge. A Navy P-8 is also providing support.”
The rescue comes as the U.S. and allies are determining how the two merchant ships, bound for Asia were attacked and by who. The Panamanian-flagged tanker, Kokuka Courageous, had reported damage to its starboard hull in an unspecified security incident. Iranian state television issued video of Front Altair burning from a hull breach on the starboard side of the ship.
On Thursday afternoon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement blaming Iran for the attacks via Twitter.
“The Norwegian Maritime Agency said that three explosions were reported on board the Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair oil tanker, which is owned by the Bermuda-based Norwegian company Frontline,” CNN reported. “The company said that a fire broke out after an explosion and that the cause of the blast was unclear.”
The 23 crew members were rescued by the South Korean cargo ship, Hyundai Dubai before being transferred to an Iranian naval vessel and taken to an Iranian port.
Japanese officials told The Wall Street Journal that the oil on both tankers was bound for Asia. During the attacks, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting with Iran’s sectarian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran.
“We voice concern about the suspicious incidents which happened today for the oil tankers affiliated to Japan concurrently with a meeting between the Japanese prime minister and Supreme Leader (of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei),” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said in Twitter, according to Iranian state-controlled media.
Iran has denied involvement in the attacks. The U.K. Marine Trade Operations said it was investigating the incidents. The reported attacks follow damage to four ships last month United Arab Emirates that the U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton says were damaged from Iranian sea mines. Tehran has denied the claim.
Last month, the U.S. moved the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group early from the Mediterranean Sea to the Middle East based on intelligence “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” Bolton said at the time.
Norfolk, Va.-based Bainbridge is attached to the Lincoln CSG. As of Thursday, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) was in port, USNI News has learned.
NOTE: Marine Insight does not have enough information to verify this video and cannot vouch for its accuracy. This video is for information purpose only.
Marine Insight does not own the rights of the video.