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AFP
June 14, 2019

Two tankers catch fire after Gulf of Oman ‘attacks’

Top Story

AFP
June 14, 2019

DUBAI: Suspected attacks left two tankers in flames in the waters of the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, sending world oil prices soaring as Iran helped rescue stricken crew members.

The mystery incident, the second involving shipping in the strategic sea lane in only a few weeks, came amid spiralling tensions between Tehran and Washington, which has pointed the finger at Iran over earlier tanker attacks in May.

The Norwegian Maritime Authority said three explosions were reported on Thursday on board the Norwegian-owned tanker Front Altair after it was “attacked” along with the Singapore-owned ship Kokuka Courageous.

Iran said its navy had rescued 44 crew members after the two vessels, which were carrying highly inflammable material, caught fire. TV images showed huge, thick plumes of smoke and fire billowing from one of the tankers as it lay out to sea.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke of “reported attacks” as Japan’s prime minister held talks in Tehran. “Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning,” Zarif tweeted.

The US Fifth Fleet said its warships had received distress calls from both vessels in a “reported attack”.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 Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, a 111,000-tonne vessel, was carrying a cargo of ethanol from Qatar to Taiwan, official news agency IRNA reported.

“As the ship caught fire, 23 of the crew jumped into the water and were saved by a passing ship and handed over to the Iranian rescue unit,” it said. “An hour after the first accident the second ship caught fire at 9:50 am 28 nautical miles off the port.”

“I can confirm that the vessel has NOT sunk,” Robert Hvide Macleo, chief executive for the ship’s owner Frontline, wrote in a text message to AFP. No injuries were reported.The Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous was headed to Singapore from Saudi Arabia with a cargo of methanol, and 21 of its crew jumped and were rescued, IRNA said.

Singapore-based BSM Ship Management said it had “launched a full-scale emergency response following a security incident” involving the Kokuka Courageous which is owned by Japanese company Kokuka Sangyo Ltd.

The incident came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was on an unprecedented visit to Iran, seeking to defuse tensions between Toyko’s ally Washington and the Islamic Republic.“Reported attacks on Japan-related tankers occurred while PM @AbeShinzo was meeting with Ayatollah @khamenei_ir for extensive and friendly talks. Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday morning, seeking to ease soaring tensions between Tehran and Washington. Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi too expressed “concern” over the coincidence of the reported tanker attacks with Abe’s visit, saying it was “against regional and trans-regional efforts... towards reducing tensions”. He added: “Iran supports cooperation and talks in the region.”

World oil prices surged following the incident. The surge in oil prices boosted share prices of energy companies, while global stock markets won support also from the prospect of US interest rate cuts this year. Rising hopes of a rate cut helped to offset lingering tensions over the long-running trade war between Washington and Beijing.

Thursday’s incident sent London’s Brent North Sea oil rebounding more than four per cent in morning deals before trimming gains.

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