Update: Pictures Released of Attacked Tankers as US Navy Assists in Evacuation
Two oil tankers were damaged in a suspected attack off the Gulf of Oman early Thursday, prompting the rescue of dozens of crew members.
The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet told Reuters it was assisting two tankers in the Gulf of Oman after receiving two distress calls. Details of the incident were unclear, but one of the operators made an unconfirmed report that a torpedo had hit its ship, Reuters reported.
“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 6:12 a.m. local time and a second one at 7:00 a.m.,” Joshua Frey of the Fifth Fleet said. The Fleet did not blame anyone for the attack.
One of the vessels involved was identified as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged but Norwegian-owned crude oil tanker carrying naphtha, a petrochemical product, to Japan.
International Tanker Management, which operates the MT Front Altair said an explosion had caused a fire onboard. The firm told the Associated Press the incident is still being investigated and it was unclear what caused the explosion. Its 23 crew members were evacuated by the nearby South Korean-based Hyundai Dubai Vessel and are now safe, the firm said.
Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, claimed the Front Altair had sunk, but the Norwegian shipping firm Frontline said it was still afloat.
The Iranian Students News Agency tweeted unverified images of the Front Altair on fire.
The other vessel, the Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, reportedly carrying methanol, sustained damage on its hull starboard side. 21 sailors were evacuated, and one was slightly injured.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations — an arm of the British Navy — had put out an alert earlier and urged “extreme caution” amid U.S.-Iran tensions.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, described the incidents as “suspicious” and called for regional talks. His comments came as Ayatollah Khamenei was meeting Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, for talks in Iran.
The area of the explosions is near the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic route through which 20 percent of global oil consumption passes from Middle East producers. Oil prices rose by about 4 percent in the wake of the latest incidents, while the tanker association INTERTANKO said that there were growing worries for the safety of ships sailing through the strait.
“Following two attacks on Member vessels this morning, I am extremely worried about the safety of our crews going through the Strait of Hormuz,” Paolo d’Amico, chairman of INTERTANKO, said in a statement.
“We need to remember that some 30% of the world’s (seaborne) crude oil passes through the Straits. If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk.”