An Iranian vessel removed an unexploded mine that had been attached to a Japanese-owned oil tanker which suffered serious damage after an explosion in the Gulf of Oman early Thursday, U.S. officials told Fox News.
At least one other mine attached to the hull detonated, causing the blast which forced the crew of 21 to abandon ship. It happened near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a key route for oil shipments in the region.
A U.S. official told Fox News an Iranian gunboat approached the Kokuka Courageous later in the day and removed the unexploded triangular-shaped limpet mine, the same type of mine used to damage four other tankers in the Gulf of Oman last month.
The official, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said the suspected Iranian vessel did not bear any flags, nor did the crew members wear any uniforms. But, the class of vessel, what the U.S. military has called a fast inshore attack craft (FIAC), was the same type of ship used by Iran to harass American warships in the Persian Gulf in recent years.
Other Iranian small boats have remained near the stricken oil tanker since the attack early Thursday, the official added.
The U.S. military possessed video of the incident and has planned to release it, the official added. The imagery came from the USS Bainbridge, a guided-missile destroyer which rescued the 21 sailors from the stricken tanker.
The official said the order to abandon ship was given after the tanker’s captain spotted the unexploded mine, not because of the fire aboard the ship.
Another tanker, a Norwegian-owned vessel called the Front Altair, also was attacked in the Gulf of Oman Thursday. Its crew was being held in Iran, according to U.S. officials.
At the State Department Thursday afternoon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks on both oil tankers.
Iran’s U.N. Mission said its government “categorically rejects” the U.S. claim that it was responsible for the attacks and condemned it “in the strongest possible terms.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.