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The Latest: Sailors back on tanker stricken in Gulf of Oman

Posted on Friday, June 14th, 2019 By The Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on Mideast developments amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region (all times local):

4 p.m.

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet says the 21 sailors it hosted overnight from one of the oil tankers hit in an apparent attack in the Gulf of Oman have returned to their vessel.

Cmdr. Joshua Frey said on Friday that the sailors were back on the Kokuka Courageous to assist in it being towed.

Frey says the USS Bainbridge remains nearby and is in close contact with the vessel.

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2:55 p.m.

The Dutch company Boskalis says it has been appointed to salvage the two tankers in the suspected attacks in the Gulf of Oman, near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Royal Boskalis Westminster said on Friday that the insurers of the two tankers, the Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous, have appointed its subsidiary SMIT Salvage to salvage both vessels and their cargoes.

Boskalis says the situation of the Front Altair, which was carrying a petroleum product known as naptha, "is still worrisome." It does not elaborate, but adds that the crew left the ship following the suspected attack on Thursday and the fire on board has been extinguished.

The company says that the Kokuka Courageous, carrying the chemical compound methanol, is in a stable condition and being towed to a port in the Gulf region.

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2:45 p.m.

The German government is calling for an investigation into the "extraordinarily worrying" suspected attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.

It also says it has no information on who carried them out and isn't saying who it believes was responsible.

Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters in Berlin on Friday that a "spiral of escalation" must be avoided.

She says that "what's important now is to continue investigating the background of the incidents in depth," and added that Germany "is in contact with all our partners" on the matter.

The U.S. military has released a video it says shows Iran's Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers. Iran denies being involved.

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2:10 p.m.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has assailed the Trump administration, accusing it of radicalizing the situation in the Mideast and pursuing an aggressive policy against his country.

Rouhani spoke at a regional summit in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek on Friday, a day after the suspected attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz that the U.S. has blamed on Iran.

Rouhani made no mention of the tankers but lashed out at Washington for walking out of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers and re-imposing sanctions on Tehran.

Rouhani says the U.S. is "using all opportunities for radicalizing the situation, which undermines the stability not only in our region but in the whole world."

He added that America has been "carrying out an aggressive policy and posing a serious threat to regional stability."

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1:40 p.m.

China is urging all parties to exercise restraint after the suspected attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday that countries should "avoid further escalation of tensions."

Iran has rejected a U.S. accusation against Tehran over Thursday's suspected attacks, which hit one Norwegian-owned ship and one Japanese-owned ship off the coast of Iran. Each vessel was loaded with petroleum products, and one was set ablaze.

Geng says that a "war in the Gulf region of the Middle East is something that no one wants to see."

China is the world's largest buyer of Iranian oil and has maintained its support for the Iran nuclear deal.

Geng said that "China will continue to protect its energy security" and oppose unilateral sanctions.

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10 a.m.

Japan's defense minister says he has no intention of sending Japanese troops to respond to attacks on a Japanese-operated oil tanker in the Middle East.

Takeshi Iwaya told reporters at a Friday news conference that the situation is not considered an imminent threat to Japan.

His remarks came after a Japanese-operated tanker headed to Singapore was attacked on Thursday while traveling near the Strait of Hormuz, just as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up his high-stakes visit in Tehran to help de-escalate regional tension.

All 21 Filipino crewmembers pf the vessel were rescued and were now on a U.S. warship.

Iwaya says Japan doesn't think the so-called "Self-Defense Force has a necessarily role to play at this point and we don't plan to send them to the Strait of Hormuz region in response to the attacks."

___

9 a.m.

The Japanese ship operator says sailors on board the Kokuka Courageous, one of the vessels attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, saw "flying objects" just before the attack, suggesting the tanker wasn't damaged by mines.

That account contradicts what the U.S. military has said as it released a video it says shows Iranian forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the two ships in the suspected attack.

The Japanese tanker carrying petroleum products to Singapore and Thailand was attacked twice while traveling near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, damaging the tanker and forcing all 21 crewmembers to evacuate.

Company president Yutaka Katada said Friday he believes the flying objects seen by the sailors could be bullets, and denied possibility of mines or torpedoes because the damages were above the ship's waterline. He called reports of mine attack "false."

Katada said the crew members also spotted an Iranian naval ship nearby, but did not specify whether that was before or after the attacks. The tanker survived the first attack that hit near the engine room, followed by another causing damage to the star-board side toward the back.

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7:45 a.m.

Iran rejects a U.S. accusation against Tehran over suspected attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in an early Friday morning tweet called the accusations part of a plot by hawkish politicians in the U.S. and the region.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday blamed Iran for the attacks and the U.S. military released images it said showed Iranian forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the ships.

Zarif tweeted that the United States "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran-w/o a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence."

He said the United States was trying to cover up economic terrorism, referring to sanctions the U.S. re-imposed on Iran.

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7 a.m.

Saudi Arabia says its military intercepted five drones launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels targeting the kingdom.

Military spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki said early Friday that the drones targeted Abha regional airport and Khamis Mushait.

Al-Maliki in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency said that the drone attack showed the Houthis were targeting civilian infrastructure in the kingdom.

U.N. experts, the West and Gulf Arab nations say Iran arms the Houthis with weapons. Tehran denies that.

The kingdom says a similar attack Wednesday on the Abha airport wounded 26 people.

It is just the latest in a wave of rebel drone and missile attacks targeting the kingdom, which has been mired in a yearslong war in Yemen that has killed an estimated 60,000 people and pushed the Arab world's poorest nation to the brink of famine.

The development comes as tensions are rising in the Persian Gulf region.

___

6 a.m.

The U.S. military's Central Command has released a video is says shows Iranian forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the two ships suspected to have been attacked near the Strait of Hormuz.

It released the black-and-white footage early Friday morning.

Capt. Bill Urban, a Central Command spokesman, said a Revolutionary Guard patrol ship removed the limpet mine from the Kokuka Courageous.

Iran has denied involvement in Thursday's suspected attacks amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S.

Urban said in a statement the attacks "are a clear threat to international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce."

He added: "The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests."

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