An Iranian navy boat sprays water to extinguish a fire on an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman,  June 13, 2019.
FILE - An Iranian navy boat sprays water to extinguish a fire on an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019.

PENTAGON - Margaret Besheer and Wayne Lee contributed to this report.

Iran summoned the British ambassador to Tehran on Saturday after Britain placed the blame on the country for the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, according to Iran's ISNA news agency.

"During the meeting with Iran's Foreign Ministry official, Iran strongly criticized Britain's unacceptable stance regarding the attacks in the Gulf of Oman. ... No other country but Britain has supported America's accusations over the attacks," ISNA reported.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt put out a statement Friday blaming Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for the attacks and asserting no other state or nonstate actor could have been behind them. Iran is denying it had anything to do with the attacks. 

Mariners from the MT Front Altair arrive at Dubai International Airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 15, 2019, after spending two days in Iran.

Meanwhile, crew members of the Norwegian-owned oil tanker that was attacked arrived in Dubai Saturday after spending two days in Iran. Both tankers are now off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The Front Altair arrived under tow, while the Kokuka Courageous made the trip under its own power.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan said the U.S. was trying to build "international consensus" in the Middle East after the attacks.

"We obviously need to make contingency plans should the situation deteriorate, but we also need to broaden our support for this international situation," Shanahan said Friday.

Video from U.S. military

The U.S. is blaming Iran for the attacks, and the military has provided video that it says shows people on an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of the Kokuka Courageous tanker.

The vessel is owned by Kokuka Sangyo, a Japanese shipping company, and the other tanker, Front Altair, is owned by Frontline, a Norwegian company.

Frontline CEO Robert Hvide Macleod told VOA the company was in close contact with the crew, who were in Iranian custody, and that they were being treated very well.

MacLeod added that the Front Altair was drifting safely and towing was to begin soon.

Frontline said a rescue tug equipped with towing capability reached the Front Altair at noon on June 14 and that two other support vessels were to arrive on the scene Saturday to with a specialist team to inspect the tanker and make recommendations.

A U.S. official, who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity, said Iranian fast attack craft were preventing two tugboats, which the Norwegian company had hired, from towing the Front Altair away.

A picture obtained from Iranian news agency Tasnim on June 14, 2019, shows what Iran said were crew from an oil tanker hit in a suspected attack in the Gulf of Oman, in Bandar-e-Jask, Iran.

The crew was taken into Iranian custody after a civilian craft, the Hyundai Dubai, rescued them.

According to a U.S. defense official, the master of the Hyundai Dubai  told American forces that Iranian forces surrounded his ship and "demanded" the crew of the Altair be released to the Iranians. The master said he felt "obligated and compelled" to comply, despite instructions from the crew’s company that the crew not be turned over to Iran.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency reported that Iran's navy rescued 44 crew members from the tankers.

The attacks

Both ships appeared to have been struck by mines.

The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet received distress calls from both stricken tankers about an hour apart. The guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge approached the Dutch tug Coastal Ace, which had rescued the crew of 21 sailors from the Kokuka Courageous after the unexploded mine was discovered on the hull and they abandoned ship.

At the request of the master of the Kokuka Courageous, the sailors remained on the Bainbridge for several hours and were returned to their ship Friday to go with it to port, said Army Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a spokesman for the U.S. military's Central Command.

Brown said a large tugboat from the UAE was now moving the Kokuka toward Fujaira, which could take several days. The Bainbridge and USS Mason remained nearby to "keep an eye out" for the crew's safety, he added.

FILE - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran, Iran, June 13, 2019.

Japan condemned the attacks, which occurred as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Iran to try to ease tensions in the region. 

The head of the Kokuka Sangyo shipping company said its ship had been attacked twice, with one explosion near the engine room and another on the right-hand side, near the back.

'Flying object'

Speaking to reporters Friday, Yutaka Katada said crew members reported seeing a "flying object" just before the second blast on board.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Thursday that the timing of the attacks was "beyond suspicious" because the Japanese prime minister was in Tehran meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

On Friday, Zarif tweeted the U.S. "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran without a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence." Zarif also accused the U.S. of engaging in "sabotage diplomacy" during Abe's visit to Iran.

China said it was deeply concerned about tensions in the region and called for restraint. "Nobody wants to see war in the Gulf," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. "We hope all relevant parties remain calm and exercise restraint."

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced his concern about the rising tensions in the region. "The world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf," he said.

The Gulf of Oman is next to the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane. About 30% of the world's seaborne crude oil travels through the strait.

Special Project