Two fresh shipping outrages


Iranian media yesterday described the damage to two tankers in the Gulf of Oman as “an accident”. It is hard to believe this. The two vessels, the Kokuka Courageous loaded with methanol and the Front Altair carrying 75,000 tons of naphtha, were some 50 kilometers apart when disasters struck them. A fire broke out on board the Front Altair.

The crews of both vessels abandoned ship. All 44 of them were reportedly picked up by one or more Iranian vessels. It is not yet clear what these Iranian craft were. However, the alarming suspicion must be that if they were not warships, they were vessels that were standing by for just such an eventuality.

The Taiwanese charterer of the Front Altair said that the crew believed that they had been struck by a torpedo. There was also a report that the Kokuka Courageous had struck a mine. That two explosions could have happened so close together in both time and distance would be a remarkable coincidence. Unsurprisingly, firm information on what actually happened to both vessels was not immediately available.

However, coming after last month’s damage to four tankers in UAE waters which the UAE authorities have blamed on “state actors”, it is hard not to conclude that these latest outrages were the work of the same people. And the only “state actors” with such a reckless and dangerous agenda are the ayatollahs in Iran.

Though President Donald Trump reacted robustly to May’s tanker attacks and sent a carrier task force into the Gulf, his response has until now been measured. That may well be about to change. Along with an enhanced US military presence in the Gulf, it can be certain that Washington will have ordered blanket satellite and signals surveillance by its intelligence agencies. Therefore whoever was responsible for these latest crimes on the high seas is very likely to have been watched and recorded. Evidence gathered from detonation sites on the two stricken tankers is also likely to be decisive in proving who is to responsible.

If, as can be expected, the finger of blame points to Iran, it will underline the disdain with which the regime holds the international community. Even as these two tankers were struck, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran trying to broker better relations between the regime and Washington. To have ordered this blatant act of piracy at the very moment that a leading international statesman was doing his best to defuse an increasingly tense crisis, would be an act of the deepest contempt.

No doubt some foreign analysts will try to argue that the “moderate” Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s efforts to mend fences with the outside world are being frustrated by hard-liners around the country’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the ferocious fanatics of the Revolutionary Guard. Iran’s longstanding “good cop, bad cop” game no longer washes. The Tehran regime can only be judged by its deeds and those deeds have become ever more reprehensible.

Iran is subject to reimposed US sanctions, not simply because of its nuclear program but because of its unremitting aggression towards its Arab neighbors. These tanker attacks are warlike acts. No sane national leader can ever want a war. But then tragically for Iran and its people, they have no sane leaders.