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Pompeo Says Iran Is Responsible for Tanker Attacks

Oil prices rise sharply amid fears of disruptions in the Strait of Hormuz, through which over a third of the world’s seaborne crude oil is shipped

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Secretary of State Pompeo Blames Iran for Attacks on Tankers
Secretary of State Pompeo Blames Iran for Attacks on Tankers
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Iran instigated attacks on two fuel tankers in the Gulf of Oman early Thursday. The attacks started fires, and crews on the vessels were evacuated. Pompeo said Iran is executing a promise to interrupt the flow of oil from the Strait of Hormuz. Photo AP
Rory Jones, 
Benoit Faucon and 
Costas Paris
Updated June 13, 2019 2:53 p.m. ET

DUBAI—The Trump administration has concluded that Iran is responsible for attacks Thursday on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, calling them the latest in a series of hostile actions in the region toward the interests of the U.S. and its allies.

The incidents sent oil prices sharply higher, reigniting fears of trade disruptions in the Strait of Hormuz, through which over a third of the world’s seaborne crude oil is shipped. Brent crude, the international benchmark for crude prices, rose as much as 4% before losing some of those gains.

The attacks appeared to use relatively sophisticated weapons, according to early assessments, and came within roughly 45 minutes of each other in the Gulf of Oman, where four tankers were attacked last month in an incident the U.S. blamed on Iran. Iran has denied responsibility for any of the attacks, including Thursday’s.

Mr. Pompeo said the latest U.S. assessment is based on “intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

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Fuel Tankers Attacked in Gulf of Oman
Fuel Tankers Attacked in Gulf of Oman
Attacks off the coast of Iran damaged two tankers early Thursday, causing fires and forcing crews to abandon both tankers. This is the latest in a series of attacks on tankers in the area, amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

He didn’t outline potential consequences, although the Trump administration has warned in recent weeks of possible retaliation to Iranian aggression. Mr. Pompeo called recent attacks part of a 40-year campaign of “unprovoked aggression against freedom-loving nations.” He said the U.S. would defend itself and its partners.

Iran had threatened on April 22 to interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, Mr. Pompeo said Thursday, an apparent reference to public comments by Iranian officials. “It is now working to execute on that promise,” he said.


In a tweet, he called the attacks “a threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran.” The U.S. plans to raise the issue at the United Nations Security Council, he said.

The attacks, including on a ship operated by a Japanese company, came as Tehran rebuffed attempts by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to ease military tensions with the U.S.

Iran, under U.S. financial sanctions that have choked off most of its crude-oil exports and sent the country into a painful recession, has repeatedly threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz if it can’t export oil. A top military commander repeated the warning before the country’s parliament on May 25.

Damage to one of the tankers was extensive, including a hole at the water line that was consistent with a hit by a torpedo or other projectile, according to early assessments. The other ship, a Japanese tanker, was hit with a projectile in a series of assaults, Japanese officials said.

Fresh Hits

Two tankers were attacked near where ship assaults had happened last month.















200 miles

200 km



How do you think the attacks on the oil tankers in the Middle East will further strain relations between Iran and the U.S.? Join the conversation below.

Both caught on fire, and their crews abandoned ship. Neither appeared to be in danger of sinking, authorities said. Both were carrying fuel products headed for Asia.

The flare-up represents another Persian Gulf skirmish emanating from the crisis that followed Mr. Trump’s decision last year to pull out of a 2015 international deal to cap Iran’s nuclear program.

A missile fired by Iran-allied Houthi militias in Yemen injured 26 civilians at a southern Saudi airport on Wednesday, drawing Saudi accusations that the rebels directly targeted civilians. Last month, the Houthis took credit for damaging attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure. No one claimed responsibility for last month’s tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman last month, though the United Arab Emirates told the U.N. that the aggressor was most likely a state actor.

Iran’s government spokesman hinted that the attacks Thursday might be the work of actors seeking to draw the region into chaos.

“All countries in the region should be careful not to fall in the trap of those who benefit from regional insecurity,” the spokesman Ali Rabei was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency.


Some analysts questioned Iran’s denials. “Today’s attacks appear to be part of a systematic Iranian effort to demonstrate that peace and security in the Gulf is contingent on its own economic stability,” said Ayham Kamel, head of Middle East and North Africa analysis for the Eurasia Group, a political-risk consulting firm, in a note.

The attack on a Japanese-operated ship came just hours before Mr. Abe met with Mr. Khamenei to try to ease the standoff between the U.S. and Tehran. Mr. Khamenei dismissed Mr. Abe’s effort to initiate negotiations between Tehran and Washington, darkening prospects for dialogue.

Brent crude oil, continuous contractSource: FactSetAs of June 13, 5:10 p.m. ET
.a barrelJune 138 a.m.4 p.m.59.5060.0060.5061.0061.5062.0062.50$63.00

“We don’t believe these words at all because honest negotiations will not come from an individual such as [President] Trump,” Mr. Khamenei said, according to Iranian state television.

Mr. Abe, who has positioned himself as a mediator between Washington and Tehran, told reporters he conveyed to Mr. Khamenei the hope of Mr. Trump to avoid a military escalation. It was unclear whether either Mr. Abe or Mr. Khamenei were aware of the attacks before the meeting started.

The strikes represented the latest hazard for oil infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, where over a quarter of the world’s petroleum is produced every day. Shipping insurance companies are raising their rates for cargo going through the Persian Gulf, and some ship captains are refusing trips there until tensions calm.

Thursday’s incidents alarmed Saudi officials, who worried repeated attacks are revealing troubling security gaps around the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean beyond. Saudi officials not authorized to speak publicly said the kingdom would press the U.N. to open a wider investigation and examine more closely the role of Iran.

Tankers Attacked in Hormuz

Key stats on the tankers that were attacked


Front Altair

Length: 251.8 meters

Gross tonnage: 109,894 metric tons

Cargo: Naphtha

Year built: 2016

Kokuka Courageos

Length: 170 meters

Gross tonnage: 19,349 metric tons

Cargo: Methanol

Year built: 2010

Note: Tankers drawings are representative only.


The two tankers attacked on Thursday were the Front Altair, owned by Bermuda-based shipping company Frontline Ltd. , and the Kokuka Courageous, operated by Kokuka Sangyo Co. of Japan.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain, which oversees U.S. naval operations in the region, received two distress calls about the attacks, one at 6:12 a.m. local time and another one at 7 a.m., said Cmdr. Josh Frey, a spokesman for the command.

After an initial attack on the Kokuka with a projectile, there was a pause, followed by one or more attacks, said Norio Ishihara, a director at the Japanese transport ministry’s maritime bureau. At least one projectile hit the ship, he said, without identifying the type.

The 19,000-ton, 170-meter-long ship carried 21 Filipino crew members, and all were safe, Mr. Ishihara said. The Kokuka was about 14 nautical miles from the coast of Iran when the attack happened and about 70 nautical miles from Fujairah, on the east coast of the U.A.E.

“Why did our ship have to be attacked? I am angry that lives and safety were threatened,” said Yutaka Katada, the president of Kokuka Sangyo.

Investigators hired by Frontline were examining photos as part of a very early-stage probe, according to a person familiar with that effort. This person said damage appeared to be consistent with a hit by a torpedo or other projectile.

The skipper of the Hyundai Dubai, a ship giving assistance to the Front Altair, relayed in a distress call that the skipper of the stricken ship believed the incident to be “most probably torpedo attack, torpedo attack,” according to a recording of the call. A nearby ship captain, speaking by satellite phone, said he had seen a hole at the water line of the ship, and that it was consistent with a torpedo hit.

The USS Bainbridge, a destroyer, rendered assistance, as did Iranian ships passing nearby. Frontline said the Front Altair’s crew was taken away by an Iranian navy vessel and disembarked at an Iranian port, where repatriation efforts were under way for 11 Russian sailors, a Georgian and 11 Filipinos.

—Alastair Gale and Aresu Eqbali in Tehran, Mayumi Negishi in Tokyo and Gordon Lubold, Courtney McBride and Nancy Youssef in Washington contributed to this article.

Write to Rory Jones at, Benoit Faucon at benoit.faucon@wsj.comand Costas Paris at


Edited by Justin Hicks
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