U.S. blames Iran for attacks on 2 tankers near Persian Gulf

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives to meet his Japanese counterpart in Tehran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives to meet his Japanese counterpart in Tehran

Crude oil prices spiked more than 4 per cent after the attacks near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping artery for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf energy producers. The US said that actor was Iran, an accusation Tehran has denied.

Meanwhile in Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that while Tehran doesn't seek nuclear weapons, "America could not do anything" to stop Iran if it did.

"(It) was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine from the Kokuka Courageous (video attached)", Urban said in a statement. The American destroyer USS Bainbridge was sent to assist, he said.

On May 12, four oil tankers - two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati - were damaged in still unexplained attacks in the Gulf of Oman off the United Arab Emirates.

The firm that operates the Front Altair told The Associated Press that an explosion was the cause of the fire onboard. Its crew of 23 is safe after being evacuated by the nearby Hyundai Dubai vessel, it said.

About an hour after the Kokuka Courageous' distress call, a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan-class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft and fast inshore attack craft near the Altair, Urban said.

Iran's navy rescued 44 crew members from the two oil tankers which caught fire after what was reported as an "accident", official news service Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The Front Altair came from Ruwais in the UAE, a loading point for the state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., according to the data firm Refinitiv.

The operator of the Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous, BSM Ship Management, said its crew abandoned ship and were rescued by a passing vessel.

The fact that both vessels remained afloat suggested mines may have damaged them, said Jakob P. Larsen, head of maritime security for BIMCO, the largest worldwide association representing ship owners.

The two vessels were struck by explosions in the early daylight hours Thursday after leaving the Strait of Hormuz and traveling around 25 nautical miles off Iran's southern coast headed toward Asia. Japan's Trade Ministry said the two vessels had "Japan-related cargo", without elaborating.

The US top diplomat said only Iran had the ability to undertake such an operation in that region, news.com.au reported.

In Yemen, this conflict has had devastating consequences for more than four years as Saudi and Emirati - backed with United States bombs - forces try to take back control of the nation from Houthi rebels aligned with Iran.

Iran earlier denied involvement via a statement from its mission to the United Nations.

"The shipping industry views this as an escalation of the situation, and we are just about as close to a conflict without there being an actual armed conflict, so the tensions are very high", said Jakob P Larsen, the head of maritime security for the shipping association BIMCO, which represents some 60 percent of the world's merchant fleet, including owners of the two damaged tankers.

Tensions between Iran and the United States have been growing since President Donald Trump past year withdrew from an global agreement aimed at restricting Iran's nuclear program and re-instated economic sanctions that have had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy. The deployment came a year after Washington exited a multinational accord that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

President Donald Trump has taken a hard line towards Iran, accusing it of being a destabilising force in the Middle East.

Already, Iran says it quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium.

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