Attacks against oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman increase tensions in the region

Attacks against oil tankers

Huge attacks against two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman left one ablaze and both adrift, according to transport companies. The event threatens to grow tensions in the region and caused an oil price hike by 4%. The rise stems from concerns over the impact that the incident will have in supplies from the Middle East.

One of the affected vessels was the Front Altair, sailing under the flag of Marshall Islands and operated by Norway’s Frontline for Taiwanese oil company CPC. The second ship was the Kokuka Courageous, sailing under the flag of Panama and owned by a Japanese firm.

Front Altair was set on fire between the Arab states of the Gulf and Iran, after an explosion that a source attributed to a magnetic mine. The Norwegian ship’s crew was rescued by a vessel in the area and was then picked up by an Iranian rescue boat. According to reports, the ship carried ethanol from Qatar to Taiwan. The fire reportedly started approximately 25 miles from Iran’s Port of Jask

Once it caught on fire, 23 crew members abandoned the ship, where a nearby vessel picked them up and delivered them to an Iranian rescue unit, local media informed.

Meanwhile, the Kokuka Courageous was abandoned after being allegedly being hit by a torpedo, according to the company that rented the ship. The vessel was carrying methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore when the fire broke out 28 miles from Jask. Twenty-one crew members jumped to the water and were later rescued.

The images on Iranian television showed the fire and clouds of smoke coming from the vessels.

Attacks against oil tankers increase tensions

These attacks against oil tankers are the second in the Strait of Ormuz in just one month. This strait is a strategic water route for global oil supplies.

The United States and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for last month’s attacks to four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates using limpet mines. Tehran denies the accusations.

Tensions have increased since President Donald Trump, who demanded that Tehran curbs its military influence programs in the Middle East, pulled the U.S. out of a deal between Iran and the world powers to slow Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

These new attacks happened when Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan –a large Iranian oil importer until Washington tightened its sanctions – was visiting Tehran. Abe urged both sides to not let tensions rise.

The Japanese official also spoke about the impact of U.S. sanctions on Japan-Iran economic and financial transactions. In this sense, Abe assured his country will maintain efforts to pave the way for Iranian oil purchases and preserving bilateral economic ties.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrein, said it was assisting the tankers, which issued distress calls. Meanwhile, Great Britain stated it was “deeply concerned” over the reported explosions and was working with associates on the matter.

Washington’s statement

The United States will continue to assess the situation at the Gulf of Oman following the attack on two oil tankers, the White House said on Thursday.

“The U.S. Government is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

Moscow advises caution

Russia warned against rushing to attribute the blame of an alleged attack on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The government of Moscow said that the incident must not be used to heighten tensions with Tehran, Russian news agency RIA stated.

"I would take the opportunity to warn against hasty conclusions, against attempts to lay the blame at the door of those we don't like," the agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

"Lately we have been seeing a strengthening campaign of political, psychological and military pressure on Iran. We wouldn't want the events that have just happened, which are tragic and shook the world oil market, to be used speculatively to further aggravate the situation in an anti-Iranian sense," Ryabkov was quoted as saying.

Russia and Iran share common interests in the Middle East. Moscow has spoken out against Washington's decision to unilaterally withdraw from a deal with Tehran on its nuclear program and impose sanctions.

Norwegian company says Front Altair is still afloat

Front Altair, one of the tankers attacked, was still afloat after the incident, Frontline Management Chief Executive Robert Hvide Macleod said. The 23 crew members were safe, the directive was quoted by Norwegian newspaper VG as saying.

Iran’s official news agency IRNA had previously quoted reports from foreign media saying that one of the tankers sunk.

Norway’s maritime authority said that 111,000-ton Front Altair was attacked and there were three explosions, but there were no reports of injuries.

For more information, check Energía16

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