Owner of tanker attacked in Gulf contradicts Pentagon: It was hit by “flying objects,” not mines

It’s weird that we’re on the brink of a full-fledged false-flag conspiracy theory forming online about this and, instead of leading it, Trump is in charge of debunking it.

Can you imagine how lit his Twitter feed would be right now about this story if President Jeb Bush and his superhawk NSA John Bolton were blaming some Middle Eastern country for a potential casus belli without solid evidence?

Anyway, here’s what the Pentagon claims happened in the Gulf of Oman:

“At 8:09 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft (FAC/FIAC) in the vicinity of the M/T Altair [one of the damaged tankers],” [Centcom’s spokesman] said…

The Altair’s crew had been rescued by a cargo ship. At 9:26 a.m., the Iranians asked the crew of the cargo ship, the Hyundai Dubai, to hand over the Altair mariners and they complied, Urban said. Meanwhile, mariners from the other attacked tanker, the Kokuka Courageous, had been rescued by a nearby tug. Urban said the Iranians tried to reach the tug first, but they were outrun by the guided missile Bainbridge, which took the rescued mariners aboard…

Four hours later, “an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approached the M/T Kokuka Courageous and was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous,” he said.

They have video. This, allegedly, is the Iranian patrol pulling alongside the unexploded mine attached to the Kokuka Courageous, removing it, and absconding with the evidence.

The open-source investigation site Bellingcat looked at the evidence. That *does* appear to be the Kokuka Courageous in the video, they noted, comparing the ship in the video to this photo released by the Defense Department:

And that *does* appear to be an Iranian patrol boat given its resemblance to other boats known to be used by Iran. But whether those are Iranians onboard, whether that really is a mine, and whether Iran stuck it on the hull in the first place are all matters of speculation.

The owner of the Kokuka Courageous spoke to the press this morning and scrambled the entire theory:

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 Japanese company operating the ship called Kokuka Courageous, one of two vessels attacked near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, said the damage could not have been caused by mines or torpedos that are shot underwater, since the damage was reportedly above the ship’s waterline.

It seems that something flew towards them. That created the hole, is the report I’ve received,” Mr Katada said at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday, the Financial Times reported.

Naval experts are invited to weigh in and correct me, but it’s possible that a limpet mine could have been attached surreptitiously above the water line, isn’t it? The “mine” seen being retrieved in the Pentagon video was close enough to the water that someone standing on the bow of the patrol boat was able to yank it off the Kokuka Courageous’s hull. It occurs to me that if Iran did do this and if, as many have speculated, the point of the attack was to signal that there’ll be disruptions to the flow of oil in the Strait of Hormuz until U.S. sanctions are lifted, the regime may have wanted to minimize damage to the ship. Had they detonated the mine at the water line, water would have rushed in and potentially threatened the ship, magnifying this crisis internationally possibly beyond Iran’s comfort zone. Detonating it above the water line sent a message without putting the ship in danger.

In that case, though, how’d the mine get on the ship in the first place? According to CBS, “Katada said the crew members also spotted an Iranian naval ship nearby, but didn’t specify whether that was before or after the attacks.” Did divers from the Iranian ship sneak up and plant the mines? If not and if Katada is right that something was fired at the ship instead of planted on it, wouldn’t the crew have noticed where the fire was coming from? My first thought when I read his quotes was that maybe the crew was still in Iranian custody and under duress, willing to contradict the Pentagon’s “mine” theory simply to secure their release. But the crew of the Kokuka Courageous isn’t in Iranian custody; as the Centcom spokesman said in the first excerpt above, they were rescued by the U.S. Navy and returned to their vessel this morning. Presumably they’re telling the truth about what they believe happened.

Is Katada maybe worried about further attacks by Iran and potentially other impediments to his shipping business in the Gulf, figuring that placating the Iranians here by spinning some story that contradicts the U.S. account of what happened might save him some trouble in the future?

A week ago the three nations whose tankers were attacked in UAE coastal waters last month released their findings, indicating that those four ships were also likely targeted with mines. Now we have video of the crew of an Iranian boat alongside the Kokuka Courageous after a new attack removing a suspicious object from the hull. Sure smells like guilt. “Iran did do it,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” this morning. “You saw the boat. One [of the] mines didn’t explode, and it has Iran written all over it. They successfully took the mine off the boat, and that was exposed. They didn’t want the evidence left behind … It was them that did it.”