- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2019

An apparent attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday left dozens of sailors stranded off the coast of Iran and ratcheted up already heightened tensions in the region.

The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet responded to the incident, which saw two vessels — the MT Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous, flagged from the Marshall Islands and Panama, respectively — stranded at sea after reports of explosions aboard and a suspected “torpedo attack.” The Front Altair was traveling to Taiwan and the Kokuka was on its way to Singapore, according to reports.

“We are aware of the reported attack on shipping vessels in the Gulf of Oman. U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local (Bahrain) time and a second one at 7:00 a.m. U.S. Navy ships are in the area and are rendering assistance,” the Navy said in a statement.

The reported attack comes just weeks after another incident in the region in which four oil tankers were struck by mines — an attack the U.S. and its regional allies blamed on Iran. It took place shortly after the Trump administration announced a major new embargo on Iranian oil exports.

After Thursday’s attack, Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said Iran was helping to evacuate the stranded sailors.

Taiwan’s state-owned oil corporation CPC said that it believes the Front Altair was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo,” according to Reuters.

The incident occurred as tensions are increasing between Iran and the U.S.

In Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that while Tehran doesn’t seek nuclear weapons, “America could not do anything” to stop Iran if it did.

The comments came during a one-on-one meeting capping Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s high-stakes visit in Tehran that sought to ease Iran-U.S. tensions, suggested the efforts had failed.

Benchmark Brent crude spiked at one point by as much 4% in trading following the reported attack, to over $62 a barrel, highlighting how crucial the area remains to global energy supplies. A third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strait, which is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.

Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, preliminarily identified one of the vessels involved as the MT Front Altair. The vessel was “on fire and adrift,” Dryad added. It did not offer a cause for the incident or mention the second ship.

The firm that operates the Front Altair told The Associated Press that an explosion was the cause of the fire onboard. International Tanker Management declined to comment further saying they are still investigating what caused the explosion. Its crew of 23 is safe after being evacuated by the nearby Hyundai Dubai vessel, it said.

The second vessel was identified as the Kokuka Courageous. BSM Ship Management said it sustained hull damage and 21 sailors had been evacuated, with one suffering minor injuries. Iranian state television said 44 sailors from the two tankers have been transferred to an Iranian port in the southern province of Hormozgan.

The timing of Thursday’s reported attack was especially sensitive as Mr. Abe’s high-stakes diplomacy mission was underway in Iran. Japan’s Trade Ministry said the two vessels had “Japan-related cargo.”

On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Mr. Abe warned that any “accidental conflict” that could be sparked amid the heightened U.S.-Iran tensions must be avoided.

His message came just hours after Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, striking its arrivals hall before dawn and wounding 26 people Wednesday.

A statement published by Mr. Khamenei’s website after Mr. Abe’s meeting Thursday with the supreme leader suggested a tense exchange between the two.

“We have no doubt about your good will and seriousness, but … I don’t regard Trump as deserving any exchange of messages,” Mr. Khamenei reportedly told Mr. Abe.

Mr. Khamenei also said Iran remained opposed to building atomic weapons, but offered a challenge to President Trump.

“You should know that if we planned to produce nuclear weapons, America could not do anything,” said Mr. Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in Iran’s Shiite theocracy.

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide