Iran Calls Reported Oil Tanker Attack in Gulf of Oman 'Suspicious'

Iran Calls Reported Oil Tanker Attack in Gulf of Oman 'Suspicious'

Two oil tankers have been hit in suspected attacks in the Gulf of Oman and the crews have been evacuated, shipping firms and industry sources said, a month after a similar incident in which four tankers in the region were struck.

The attacks 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.

Iran said its navy had rescued 44 crew members after the two vessels caught fire in "accidents" off its coast.

The Bahrain-based United States Navy Fifth Fleet said it was assisting the tankers after receiving distress calls following "reported attacks".

"Today, June 13 at 6:03 am, the Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel, was attacked between the Emirates and Iran", the statement said.

Iranian state media said the first incident occurred on board the Front Altair at 8:50 am (0420 GMT) 25 nautical miles off Bandar-e-Jask in southern Iran.

"The ship is safely afloat", it said in a statement, adding that its crew were safe with one minor injury reported.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said its tanker Kokuka Courageous was damaged in a "suspected attack" that breached the hull above the water line while transporting methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore. The U.S. claims that Iranian agents used limpet mines to target the ships, none of which sunk despite sustaining damage.

Last hour, IRNA reported that the damaged tank front Altair has sunk in the Gulf of Oman. "We are in contact with local authorities and partners in the region", a British government spokeswoman said.

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Oil prices had slumped in the previous session on an unexpected rise in US crude stockpiles and a dimming outlook for global oil demand. The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, part of the Royal Navy, said it was investigating.

Global oil prices gained around four percent immediately after the reports of the attack. Benchmark Brent oil was trading at $61.74 a barrel, up about three per cent.

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.

However, the USA has said that Iran used mines to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah last month.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton said Iranian naval mines were nearly certainly behind those attacks but declined to provide specific evidence that Tehran was involved.

Tensions in the Middle East have escalated since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 multinational nuclear pact with Iran and reimposed sanctions, notably targeting Tehran's key oil exports.

Thursday's incident came after Iran-aligned Huthi rebels on Wednesday said they had fired a missile at a Saudi airport. Saudi officials said 26 people were wounded in the attack on Ahba airport. Iran has repeatedly rejected the accusations that it was behind the sabotage.

Saudi Arabia had attributed those acts to Iran.

Japan's Trade Ministry said that the two tankers were carrying "Japan-related" cargo, without providing further details.

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