Tensions continue to rise over the alleged attack by Iran on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman as the US military released video footage that it claims shows an Iranian military patrol boat approach one of the vessels.
The footage was released as Britain backed the US in its assessment that Iran was responsible for the suspected attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned Tehran that if it is proven to be behind the incident it would be a "deeply unwise escalation which poses a real danger to the prospects of peace and stability in the region".
In the early hours of Friday morning, the US military released a video that it claims shows an unexploded limpet mine being removed from one of the tankers, the Kokuka Courageous.
The black-and-white footage captured by a US aircraft shows a boat, said to be a Revolutionary Guard patrol ship, approaching the tanker.
However, the owner of the Japanese oil tanker said US reports provided “false” information.
The ship operator said “flying objects” that may have been bullets were the cause of damage to the vessel, rather than mines used by Iranian forces, as the US has suggested.
Yutaka Katada, chief executive of the company operating the Kokuka Courageous, one of the two ships attacked, said damage could not have been caused by mines or torpedos, since the damage was reportedly above the ship’s waterline, not below.
Iran has rejected accusations by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo that it was responsible.
Mr Pompeo said on Twitter: "These attacks are a threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran."
However Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, hit back, writing on Twitter that the US had "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran-w/o a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence".
It is the assessment of the U.S. government that Iran is responsible for today's attacks in the Gulf of Oman. These attacks are a threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran. pic.twitter.com/cbLrWNU5S0— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 13, 2019
That the US immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran—w/o a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence—only makes it abundantly clear that the #B_Team is moving to a #PlanB: Sabotage diplomacy—including by @AbeShinzo—and cover up its #EconomicTerrorism against Iran.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 14, 2019
Downing Street called the suspected attacks "completely unacceptable" and Jeremy Hunt told the BBC: "This is deeply worrying and comes at a time of already huge tension.
“I have been in contact with (Mr) Pompeo and, while we will be making our own assessment soberly and carefully, our starting point is obviously to believe US allies.
"We are taking this extremely seriously and my message to Iran is that if they have been involved, it is a deeply unwise escalation which poses a real danger to the prospects of peace and stability in the region."
In a commentary accompanying the video, US Central Command (Centcom) said US naval forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6.12am and 7am local time on Thursday - one from the Front Altair, loaded with flammable naphtha from the UAE, and a second from the Kokuka Courageous, which was carrying methanol from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
It said the USS Bainbridge, a guided missile destroyer, was around 40 nautical miles away and began approaching the area "immediately".
At 8.09am a US aircraft saw an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) patrol boat and "multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft" approach in the vicinity of the Altair, Centcom said.
Along with various other movements, it said the crew of the Kokuka Courageous had "abandoned their ship after discovering a probable unexploded limpet mine on their hull following an initial explosion", adding that at 4.10pm local time an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat was seen removing the unexploded mine.