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Japanese tanker owner contradicts U.S. officials over explosives used in Gulf of Oman attack

The owner of the Kokuka Courageous says something had flown at the ship despite U.S. officials' claims.
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The Japanese owner of a tanker attacked in the Gulf of Oman claimed Friday that it was struck by a flying projectile, contradicting reports by U.S. officials and the military on the source of the blast.

U.S. Central Command said the two vessels were hit Thursday by a limpet mine, which is attached to boats below the waterline using magnets. U.S. Central Command released video it claimed showed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps patrol boat removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers, the Kokuka Courageous.

But on Friday morning, the owner of the 560-foot Courageous, said that sailors saw something flying toward the vessel just before the explosion and that the impact was well above the waterline.

"We received reports that something flew towards the ship," said Yutaka Katada, president of Kokaku Sangyo Co. at a press conference. "The place where the projectile landed was significantly higher than the water level, so we are absolutely sure that this wasn’t a torpedo.

"I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship."

U.S. officials have not yet responded to the claims. But President Donald Trump reiterated U.S. allegations that Iran was behind the attack, telling the Fox News Channel that the incident had "Iran written all over it."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that the weapons used and the level of expertise behind the attack suggested Tehran is the culprit.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif angrily dismissed the claims and said they were without "a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence."

The attack came on the heels of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's two-day trip to Iran, aimed at improving relations between Washington and Tehran, which have deteriorated markedly in the last 48 hours.

The USS Bainbridge was dispatched to help the damaged vessels in the gulf. A spokesman for Central Command said in a statement Thursday that the U.S. and the international community "stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation.”

“The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests,” said the spokesman, Capt. Bill Urban.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry condemned the attacks in a statement Friday and vowed to work with the related countries to secure the safety of the region, but did not mention Iran or other possible assailants.