Two tankers attacked in Gulf of Oman, U.S. sending destroyer to assist
By Dpa Correspondents
Two tankers were damaged on Thursday in what their operating companies said were attacks targeting the vessels in the Gulf of Oman, forcing crew members to evacuate, in the latest incidents taking place amid increasing regional tensions with Iran.
The owner companies have not confirmed that their vessels were attacked, focusing on the safety of their crews and the damage.
It was not clear how the tankers were targeted, as a Norwegian company said fire erupted on its oil tanker following an explosion.
The Norwegian Maritime Agency confirmed that there was an attack on the Front Altair, while Taiwan’s state oil refiner CPC Corp described the incident as suspected attacks.
The vessel, operated by Ocean Energy, was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha, which was sold by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and was uploaded at the Port of Ruwais in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, the company said.
Iranian media released footage allegedly showing fire on one side of the Front Altair, with black smoke coming out of it.
A second tanker, the Kokuka Courageous vessel bound for Asia, was also attacked, the Japanese company operating it said.
The incidents took place near the Strait of Hormuz, a key shipping route for oil connecting the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. It lies between Iran to the north and the Gulf peninsula.
Iran is investigating the cause of explosions on the two cargo ships, as several teams of experts have flown over the scene by helicopter, according to a spokesman from the Maritime Search and Rescue Centre in the southern Iranian province of Hormozgan.
Iranian authorities are referring to the incident as “explosions,” and not “attacks.”
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations had earlier said it was investigating an unspecified incident in the Gulf of Oman.
The incident comes amid tensions between Iran and the United States, which blamed Tehran for attacks targeting four tankers docked off the UAE’s Fujairah port city last month.
The Norwegian-owned Front Altair oil tanker was on fire following an explosion but has not sunk, a spokesman for the owner Frontline said.
“There was an explosion followed by a fire. But what caused the explosion we have yet to find out,” the spokesman told dpa.
“We are not confirming an attack, because we can’t.”
The company said the vessel followed “all applicable security procedures in transiting the Strait of Hormuz, and there has been no marine pollution reported.”
The crew were unharmed and taken to a nearby vessel, the Hyundai Dubai, before they were taken to Iran, the company said.
The crew comprised 11 Russian nationals, one Georgian and 11 Filipinos.
The Russian embassy in Iran confirmed 11 Russians were among the crew and were evacuated to a port in southern Iran.
“Ten men and one woman. They are fine, no trauma or harm to their health,” the embassy said in a statement carried by state news agency TASS.
A Japanese company operating the other ship, the Kokuka Courageous, which was carrying methanol, said it had been attacked.
Its 21 crew members, all Filipinos, had to abandon the ship before they were quickly rescued from a lifeboat by a nearby vessel.
“The Kokuka Courageous remains in the area and is not in any danger of sinking. The cargo of methanol is intact,” said Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which owns the ship.
The company said the vessel is about 70 nautical miles from the UAE’s Fujairah and about 14 nautical miles from the coast of Iran.
The US Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain is providing assistance after receiving two separate distress calls early Thursday, said Joshua Frey, a spokesman for the 5th Fleet.
Iran has denied accusations by the United States that it attacked four tankers docked off Fujairah port last month, including two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian-registered one.
A week after the tanker attacks, Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia said two oil pipeline booster stations in Riyadh province were targeted by explosive-laden drones, an attack claimed by Yemen’s Iran-linked Houthi rebels.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif found the attacks were suspicious as news came out the on Japan-related tankers while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting with Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran.
“Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning,” Zarif wrote in a tweet.
A European Union official warned against “further elements of destabilization and tensions,” in the region.
“Our call continues to be for maximum restraint and to avoid any provocations,” said EU foreign policy spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic, echoing earlier calls by the bloc’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini.
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