US Navy: 2 oil tankers damaged in Sea of Oman; shipping firm: ‘suspected attack’

Nature of incident in Middle East waters still unclear, with US and UK navies investigating; pro-Iran Lebanese news channel Al-Mayadeen says, without evidence, 2 tankers targeted

Illustrative photo: In this photo released by Iran's state-run IRIB News Agency, an oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, June 13, 2019. (IRIB News Agency via AP)
Illustrative photo: In this photo released by Iran's state-run IRIB News Agency, an oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, June 13, 2019. (IRIB News Agency via AP)

The US Navy said Thursday that two oil tankers in the Sea of Oman were damaged in an incident, Bloomberg reported, as unconfirmed Arab and Iranian reports claimed explosions in the area amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran and a high-stakes visit by the Japanese prime minister to Iran.

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.

One oil tanker was reportedly on fire in the Sea of Oman Thursday after sending a distress call to a port in the United Arab Emirates. The tanker had loaded oil from a port in Abu Dhabi before setting off to sea and catching fire for an unknown reason, according to the Bloomberg news website, which cited an unnamed source.

Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, preliminarily identified the vessel 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.

The manager of tanker Kokuka Courageous, which was en route from Saudi Arabia to Singapore with a shipment of methanol, said the vessel “has been breached as a result of the suspected attack,” Bloomberg reported.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, a maritime safety group run by the British navy, warned of an unspecified incident in the Gulf of Oman and urged “extreme caution” but did not elaborate on the incident. It said it was investigating.

Benchmark Brent crude, apparently reacting to the incident, rose in early trading Thursday to over $62, a 3.4% increase.

Emirati officials declined to immediately comment. The coordinates offered for the incident by the UK group put it some 45 kilometers (25 miles) off the Iranian coastline.

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. Iran has denied being involved.

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.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shake hands after their joint press conference at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, June 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

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.

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