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Japanese firm operating attacked tanker getting mixed info, worried about crew

President of Japanese shipping company Kokuka Sangyo Co., Yutaka Katada, explains what part of the company's tanker was damaged by the June 13 attack at the company office in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward that evening. (Mainichi/Takuya Izawa)

TOKYO -- The president of Kokuka Sangyo Co., the Japanese company operating one of two tankers that was attacked June 13 near the Strait of Hormuz, expressed anger during a press conference as company officials scrambled to gather information.

On the night of June 13, reporters flocked to the office in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, where the company operating the tanker Kokuka Courageous held an emergency news conference. There, Kokuka Sangyo President Yutaka Katada confessed with a stiff expression that the company was receiving conflicting reports.

"Every 10 to 20 minutes, we get different bits of information. At this point in time we can't provide you with a detailed explanation (of what happened)," he told reporters. He expressed frustration with the situation, saying, "We have questions about why one of our tankers was targeted, and anger toward the fact that our crew members' lives were threatened."

According to Kokuka Sangyo, the first attack suddenly took place while the Kokuka Courageous was navigating through waters in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz. The engine room at the stern of the ship was hit by what appeared to be artillery shells and ignited on fire, which crew members managed to extinguish. About three hours later, the tanker was drifting due to the damaged engine when it was attacked once again, this time further toward the bow of the ship than the engine room.

The crew members escaped in life rafts, and were rescued by a foreign ship that was passing by. While all 21 Filipino crew members were confirmed safe, Kokuka Sangyo President Katada said that he did not know even which port the crew would be taken to, and whether they would be allowed entry into that port.

No one has made off with the tanker, and it is said that it is still drifting at sea. As for the 25,000 tons of methanol that the ship was in the process of transporting from Saudi Arabia to Singapore, Katada said, "We'll consult with insurance and salvage companies to decide what measures to take."

Tankers operated by Kokuka Sangyo had armed security guards on board until about five years ago. However, with the decline in the frequency of pirate attacks in recent years, the company said that it had not required security services on their ships. A representative for Kokuka Sangyo said, "Even if we did have security guards on board, there's not much they could've done if the ships get attacked with artillery fire from the outside."

(Japanese original by Buntaro Saito, City News Department)

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