President Rouhani dismisses speculation the explosions targeting an oil tanker were caused by terrorists
Iran said on Monday a foreign government was behind what it alleges was a “treacherous” attack on a tanker off Saudi Arabia last week, as it released pictures of its damaged hull.
Tehran says the Iranian-flagged Sabiti oil tanker was hit by two separate explosions off the Red Sea port of Jeddah on Friday. It is the first Iranian ship to have been targeted since a spate of attacks on vessels in the Gulf that Washington blamed on Tehran.
“A government has definitely been involved in this,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told a news conference in Tehran. “It wasn’t an act by terrorists, by an individual, a group. It was done by a government.”
Rouhani said Iran had video footage showing a number of “rockets” were fired at the Sabiti, with two of them striking the vessel. “It was a hostile and treacherous act,” he said. “We are investigating which government was involved… but it is still too early to determine who has done it.”
The images released by the tanker’s owner, the National Iranian Tanker Company, show two holes above the waterline on the ship’s starboard side. They are dated Sunday. The NITC said the alleged attack occurred 100 kilometers from the Saudi port of Jeddah on Friday.
The incident caused oil to spill from the tanker into the Red Sea, the company said, before it was eventually controlled and the vessel began slowly moving back towards Gulf waters.
The incident follows a series of unexplained attacks in May and June on shipping in and around the Gulf, a vital waterway linking oil-producing countries to world markets, as well as drone attacks on Saudi oil installations. Washington accused Tehran of attacking the vessels with mines and to be behind the drone assault, something it strongly denied.
There have also been seizures of both Iranian and Western-flagged vessels.
Iran said previously that the “cowardly” attack on its own tanker was caused by a missile strike and vowed not to let it go unpunished. “Maritime piracy and wickedness in international waterways… will not be left unanswered,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said on Saturday. But the state-owned NITC denied reports the alleged attack had originated from Saudi soil.
According to the latest data from shipping monitors Marine Traffic, the Sabiti was close to entering the Bab al-Mandeb Strait on Monday.
Iran’s archenemy the United States has formed a naval coalition to escort commercial vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic chokepoint at the mouth the Gulf. It has been joined by Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Iran has been locked in a standoff with the United States and its Gulf Arab allies since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal that gave it relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
At the height of the crisis, Trump ordered retaliatory strikes against Iran after the Islamic republic downed a U.S. drone but called them off at the last minute.