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June 14, 2019

Oil tankers struck near Strait of Hormuz

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June 14, 2019

GULF OF OMAN: Suspected attacks left two tankers ablaze in the waters of the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, sparking fears of a broader conflict and sending world oil prices soaring.

The mysterious incident came amid spiraling tensions between Iran and the US, which pointed the finger at the Islamic republic last month over similar attacks in the strategic sea lane. The suspected attacks occurred at dawn Thursday about 40 kilometers (25 miles) off the southern coast of Iran.

The Front Altair, loaded with naphtha from the United Arab Emirates, radioed for help as it caught fire. A short time later, the Kokuka Courageous, loaded with methanol from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, also called for help.

The US Navy sent a destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, to assist, said Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a 5th Fleet spokesman. He described the ships as being hit in a “reported attack,” without elaborating.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was taking Thursday's tanker incident to the UN Security Council. "It is the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks," Mr Pompeo said.

"This is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication."

He said Iran was lashing out because of the impact of US and international sanctions, but said it had no right "to attack innocent civilians and engage in nuclear blackmail."

The Norwegian Maritime Authority said three explosions were reported on board the Norwegian-owned tanker Front Altair after it was "attacked" along with the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous.

Iran said its navy rescued 44 crew members after the two vessels, which were carrying highly inflammable material, caught fire. Footage aired on television showed thick, black plumes of smoke and flames billowing from one of the tankers as it lay out to sea.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the timing of the "reported attacks" was "suspicious", coming as Japan's prime minister held talks in Iran. The US Fifth Fleet, based in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, said its warships had received separate distress calls from each vessel.

The White House said US President Donald Trump was briefed on the suspected attacks and the government was assessing the situation. UN chief Antonio Guterres condemned the "security incidents" and warned the world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf, while the European Union called for "maximum restraint".

The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia – a key ally of the US in the Middle East – said on Thursday that his country agrees with the United States that Iran was behind the attacks. "We have no reason to disagree with the secretary of state. We agree with him," Adel al-Jubeir told CNN. "Iran has a history of doing this."

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