Japan to send warship and aircraft to guard its tankers in Middle East

By: Dhipa Palani

Updated on

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After the reported June 2019 attack on its oil tanker, Kokuka Courageous, Japan has vowed to send a warship and patrol planes to the Middle East to protect its vessels in the Gulf of Oman. The attack took place off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) amid the height of the US-Iran tensions and the act was blamed on Iran. 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who was on a two-day visit to Tokyo earlier this month regarding Japan’s naval patrol plans in the Gulf of Oman. The warship and patrol aircraft will not be present in the Strait of Hormuz, which is in close proximity to Iranian coasts. 

Gulf of Oman attacks on vessels

On June 13 this year, Japan’s Kokura Courageous and Norwegian tanker Front Altair were attacked by limpet mines, causing fire damage. The incident occurred near the Strait of Hormuz as the two oil tankers were moving into the Gulf of Oman. Aerial footage shows the two tankers fall target to limpet mines, explosives which were extensively used in naval attacks during World War II by Z Special Unit commandos. 

A total of 23 crew members from Front Altair and 21 from Kokura Courageous were rescued by Iranian and US navy, respectively. There were no casualties from the incident and Tehran has denied claims of its involvement in the attack. 

The attack in June came within one month of a similar attack on four other tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Two Saudi Arabian, one Norwegian and one Emirati-registered ship were struck by an unknown object at the waterline near the Emirati port of Fujairah in May 2019. 

Who is behind the attacks?

The United Kingdom, United States and Saudi Arabia have reportedly blamed Iran for both attacks. US President Donald Trump has said that Iran has its “name written all over” the attacks. “Iran did do it and you know they did it because you saw the boat,” he said, referring to video evidence of an Iranian navy boat removing an unexploded mine attached to the hull of the Kokura Courageous.

It is reportedly believed that the Iranians were attempting to get rid of evidence of their involvement after the attacks. Several European foreign ministries, however, are not convinced by US allegations and have called for an independent United Nations (UN) investigation.