Two large explosions target tankers in the Gulf of Oman

A picture from Iranian State TV shows smoke billowing from a tanker off the coast of Oman. (AFP)

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.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out the alert but did not elaborate on the incident. It said it was investigating.

Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said his command was “aware” of a reported incident in the area. He declined to elaborate. “We are working on getting details,” Frey told The Associated Press.

According to Reuters, the US Fifth Fleet later said it received distress calls from two ships attacked in Sea of Oman. It said that the US Navy ships are in the area and are rendering assistance. US Naval forces are assisting tankers in the Gulf of Oman after receiving two distress calls on Thursday, the US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said.

“We are aware of the reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman. US 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. 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.

Iranian state television’s website, citing the pro-Iran Lebanese satellite news channel al-Mayadeen, said two oil tankers had been targeted in the Gulf of Oman. It offered no evidence to support the claim. The coordinates offered for the incident by the UK group put it some 45 kilometers off the Iranian coastline.

Two tankers have been evacuated after an incident in the Gulf of Oman and the crew are safe, four shipping and trade sources said. The sources identified the tankers as the Marshal Islands-flagged Front Altair and the Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous. There was no immediate confirmation from ship operators or authorities in Oman or neighbouring United Arab Emirates, in whose territorial waters four tankers were hit last month.

Tanker Front Altair was on fire, an official at the UAE port of Fujairah and a person with knowledge of the matter says. The vessel had loaded oil from the Abu Dhabi in the UAE, before setting off to sea, according to Bloomberg. Iranian media later reported that one of the two tankers involved in the Gulf of Oman incident has sunk.

The incident comes as Iranian media claimed – without offering any evidence – that there had been an explosion in the area targeting oil tankers. The maritime alert comes after what the United States has described as Iranian attacks on four oil tankers nearby, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

Those apparent attacks occurred off the Emirati port of Fujairah, also on the Gulf of Oman, approaching the critical Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.

The timing was especially sensitive as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran on a high-stakes diplomacy mission. On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Abe warned that any “accidental conflict” that could be sparked amid the heightened US-Iran tensions must be avoided.

His message came just hours after Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, wounding 26 people. Abe was to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday, the second and final day of his visit.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, a top government spokesman, told reporters that Abe’s trip was intended to help de-escalate tensions in the Mideast — but not specifically mediate between Tehran and Washington.

His remarks were apparently meant to downplay and lower expectations amid uncertain prospects for Abe’s mission. Tensions have escalated in the Mideast as Iran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year.

Japan’s Trade Ministry says the two oil tankers reportedly attacked near the Strait of Hormuz carried “Japan-related” cargo. (Screengrab)

Japan’s Trade Ministry says the two oil tankers reportedly attacked near the Strait of Hormuz carried “Japan-related” cargo. (Screengrab)

Taiwan’s CPC says 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 tons of naphtha, a petrochemical feedstock, when it was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo” around noon Taiwan time (0400GMT), 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.

‘Japan-related’ cargo

Japan’s Trade Ministry says the two oil tankers reportedly attacked near the Strait of Hormuz carried “Japan-related” cargo.

Thursday’s comment came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a two-day trip to Iran with a mission to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington.

No one has claimed responsibility or explained how the tankers were attacked. However, the US previously blamed Iran for an attack last month on four oil tankers close to the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah.

Meanwhile, Iranian state television reported that 44 sailors from the two tankers have been transferred to an Iranian port in the southern province of Hormozgan.

Frontline spokesman denies IRNA report 

Frontline’s oil tanker Front Altair is still afloat in the Gulf of Oman, a spokesman for the firm said, denying an earlier report by the Iranian news agency IRNA.

“There are pictures from a salvage vessel that is circling the ship, and the vessel hasn’t sunk,” said company spokesman Pat Adamson, citing the most recent information received from the ship’s technical management, which he had received a few minutes earlier.

Meanwhile, Norwegian authorities called on its ships in the region to exercise extra caution. “Even if the background for these attacks is not totally clear, the Norwegian Maritime Authority recommends, after today’s episode, to stay well clear of Iranian waters until further notice,” it said.

Britain seeking facts on reports

Britain is aware of the reports of two tankers being hit in suspected attacks in the Gulf of Oman and is seeking urgently to establish the facts of what happened, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said on Thursday.

(Developing)

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:52 - GMT 06:52
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