Two tankers struck in suspected attacks in Gulf of Oman
Dubai – Two tankers were hit in suspected attacks in the Gulf of Oman and the crew have been evacuated, shipping sources said on Thursday, a month after a similar incident in which four tankers in the region were struck.
Japan’s Trade Ministry said the two vessels had “Japan-related cargo” as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a high-stakes visit in Tehran that sought to ease tensions between Iran and the United States.
The Norwegian tanker Front Altair was “attacked” Thursday in the Gulf of Oman, with three explosions but no injuries reported on board, the Norwegian Maritime Authority said.
The Iranian news agency IRNA reported on Thursday that the Front Altair, an oil tanker damaged in an attack in the Gulf of Oman, had sunk.
While the chief executive of Frontline, the company that owns the vessel, told AFP, denying reports it had sunk.
“I can confirm that the vessel has NOT sunk,” Robert Hvide Macleod wrote in a text message to AFP. The 23 people on board were “all safe”, he added.
Earlier reports had said the tanker was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha, a flammable liquid hydrocarbon.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, part of the Royal Navy, earlier said it was aware of an incident in the Gulf of Oman.
“UK and its partners are currently investigating,” the group said without elaborating.
U.S. Naval forces are assisting tankers in the Gulf of Oman after receiving two distress calls on Thursday, the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said.
“We are aware of the reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman. U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12a.m. local time and a second one at 7:00 a.m.,” Joshua Frey of the Fifth Fleet said
Two tankers, the Marshal Islands-flagged Front Altair and the Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous, had been evacuated and the crews were safe, four shipping and trade sources said.
The firm that operates the Front Altair told The Associated Press that an explosion was the cause of the fire onboard
Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, preliminarily identified one of the vessels involved as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker. The vessel was “on fire and adrift,” Dryad added. It did not offer a cause for the incident or mention the second ship.
44 crew members were rescued
Iranian search and rescue teams have picked up 44 sailors from two damaged tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on Thursday, citing an unnamed informed source.
The sailors were taken to the Iranian port of Jask, IRNA reported.
Twenty-three crew abandoned ship after the fire broke out and were picked up by a passing ship and handed over to an Iranian rescue vessel.
The second tanker was a Panama-flagged ship heading from a port in Saudi Arabia towards Singapore when a fire broke out approximately 28 miles from Jask.
Total of 44 crew members were rescued from the two oil tankers which caught fire, IRNA reported.
Reaction on the attacks
European Union calls for maximum restraint after the oil tankers were targeted in Gulf of Oman, saying that more information need to collected on the attack. Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said “the region does not need further elements of destabilisation and tensions and therefore her (Mogherini’s) call and our call continues to be for maximum restraint and to avoid any provocations.”
Britain expressed on Thursday its concerns over the explosions that occurred in the Gulf of Oman that hit two oil tankers.
A spokesman for the British government said that the UK was in contact with local authorities and partners in the Gulf region to understand situation.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said two oil tanker incidents in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday were “suspicious” and called for regional dialogue to avoid tensions.
Zarif tweeted that “reported attacks on Japan-related” oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman had taken place while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei “for extensive and friendly talks”.
“Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning,” he tweeted. “Iran’s proposed Regional Dialogue Forum is imperative.”
Kuwait have also announced its readiness to deal with any emergency while Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC) affirmed Thursday that its operations were running smoothly, adding that it was ready to address any kind of emergencies.
A KOTC statement said that all precautions were taken to make sure that the company fleet were secure and ready to sail.
Taiwan’s CPC: tanker carrying naphtha attacked
An oil tanker chartered by Taiwan’s state oil refiner CPC Corp to carry fuel from the Middle East was attacked earlier on Thursday, a senior company official said.
Oil tanker Front Altair was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha, a petrochemical feedstock, when it was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo” Wu I-Fang, CPC’s petrochemical business division CEO, told Reuters.
He said all crew members have been rescued.
Front Altair was last seen off Iran in the Gulf of Oman after loading its cargo from Ruwais in the United Arab Emirates, according to shipping data on Refinitiv Eikon.
Tanker Kokuka Courageous damaged
A spokesman for the managers of the Kokuka Courageous tanker, reportedly one of the tankers on fire, told Reuters that 21 crew members abandoned ship after the incident.
One crew member is slightly injured, but got aid from a nearby ship, he said.
As for the ship, the incident caused damage to ship’s hull on starboard side and the ship remains at sea, however, there is no danger of the ship sinking, the spokesperson added.
“The Kokuka Courageous remains in the area and is not in any danger of sinking. The cargo of methanol is intact,” the spokesman said.
The vessel is about 70 nautical miles from Fujairah and about 14 nautical miles off Iran.
The area is near the Strait of Hormuz, a major strategic waterway through which a fifth of global oil consumption passes from Middle East producers.
One shipping broker said there had been an explosion “suspected from an outside attack” that may have involved a magnetic mine on the Kokuka.
“All crew safely abandoned the vessel and was picked up by Vessel Coastal Ace. Kokuka Courageous is adrift without any crew on board” the source said.
Another source said the Front Altair reported a fire caused by a “surface attack” and that the crew had been picked up by nearby vessel Hyundai Dubai.
Oil prices jump
Oil prices surged by 4% after the report that raises tensions in the Gulf, which have been heightened by a dispute between Iran and the United States.
Oil prices surged on Thursday after a unit of the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy said it was aware of an incident involving a tanker in the Gulf of Oman near the Iranian coast.
Reports of a tanker on fire in the Gulf of Oman followed the earlier sabotage attacks on vessels near the Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs and located just outside the nearby Strait of Hormuz.
Brent crude futures were up $2, or 3.3%, at $61.97 a barrel by 0646 GMT.
Major Gulf markets slide after attack on tankers
All major Gulf stock markets dropped on Thursday after suspected attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman, with a missile strike by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a civilian airport in southern Saudi Arabia also weighing on risk sentiment.
Two tankers were hit in the suspected attacks and their crews were evacuated, shipping sources said. Four tankers in the region were struck in a similar incident a month ago.
On Wednesday, Houthi rebels carried out a missile attack on a civilian airport in southern Saudi which wounded 26 people.
The Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen said it would respond forcefully.
The incident comes as Iranian media claimed – without offering any evidence – that there had been an explosion in the area targeting oil tankers.
Thursday’s maritime alert comes after what the U.S. has described as Iranian attacks on four oil tankers nearby, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Iran has denied being involved.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said on May 29 that naval mines “almost certainly from Iran” were used to attack the tankers off the United Arab Emirates last month, and warned Tehran against conducting new operations.
Tensions in the Middle East have escalated since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 multinational nuclear pact with Iran and reimposed sanctions, notably targeting Tehran’s key oil exports.