TOKYO — The owner of a Japanese tanker attacked in the Gulf of Oman offered a different account Friday of the nature of the attack than that provided by the United States.
Yutaka Katada, president of the Kokuka Sangyo shipping company, said the Filipino crew of the Kokuka Courageous tanker thought their vessel was hit by flying objects rather than a mine.
“The crew are saying it was hit with a flying object. They say something came flying toward them, then there was an explosion, then there was a hole in the vessel,” he told reporters. “Then some crew witnessed a second shot.”
The United States said the tanker was attacked by limpet mines and released a video that it said showed men aboard an Iranian boat removing an unexploded mine from one of the ships.
But Katada offered an alternative version of how the events unfolded.
“To put a bomb on the side is not something we are thinking,” he said. “If it’s between an explosion and a penetrating bullet, I have a feeling it is a penetrating bullet. If it was an explosion, there would be damage in different places, but this is just an assumption or a guess.”
On Thursday, company officials said the vessel, which had been carrying methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore, was first hit by what appeared to be an artillery shell toward the stern, causing a fire in the engine room that crew members were able to extinguish.
Three hours later, the ship was again attacked on the same side in the center of the hull, at which point the captain felt it was no longer safe and ordered the crew to take to the life boats, officials said.
“When the shell hit, it was above the water surface by quite a lot,” Katada said Friday. “Because of that, there is no doubt that it wasn’t a torpedo.”
One crew member was injured and was later treated by the U.S. military, he added.
Company officials said Thursday that the ship was hit on the port side, but photos released by the United States showed damage and a suspected mine on the starboard side.
The ship’s crew saw an Iranian military vessel in the vicinity Thursday night Japan time, Katada said, according to Reuters news agency.
Declassified intelligence from the Defense Department details several tense moments when the captains of two rescue ships were surrounded by Iranian patrol boats whose captains asked for the rescued crew members to be handed over.
According to the account, the Hyundai Dubai oil tanker rescued the seamen of a Norwegian ship, the Front Altair, that also came under attack Thursday, but it was soon surrounded by Iranian military vessels.
The ship’s captain “felt like he had no choice but to comply with Iranian demands,” so the crew members were transferred to the Iranian vessels and taken to Iran, this account said.
The document said that after the explosion aboard the Kokuka Courageous, a Dutch ship answered its distress call and rescued the crew.
An Iranian navy ship raced to the rescue ship, even as the U.S. Navy’s guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge was nearing, and asked to take the Kokuka Courageous crew aboard “so they could transfer personnel and render assistance to the crew,” the U.S. account said.
The owner of the Japanese tanker instructed the crew not to get on the Iranian ship, so they boarded the Bainbridge instead, the Pentagon report said.
Morello reported from Washington.