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June 14, 2019

Two tankers catch fire after suspected Gulf of Oman attacks

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June 14, 2019

DUBAI: Suspected attacks left two tankers in flames in the waters of the Gulf of Oman 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 Thursday reported on board the Norwegian-owned tanker Front Altair after it was “attacked” along with the Singapore-owned ship Kokuka Courageous.The European Union on Thursday called for “maximum restraint” to avoid escalation after two tankers were reportedly attacked in the Gulf of Oman, forcing their crews to evacuate the vessels.

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 21 crew of the vessel abandoned ship after the incident on board which resulted in damage to the ship’s hull starboard side,” it said. “One crew man from the Kokuka Courageous was slightly injured in the incident and is receiving first aid.” It said the vessel was about 70 nautical miles from the United Arab Emirates and just 14 from the coast of Iran. Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters in Tokyo: “A tanker carrying Japan-related goods was attacked. “There were no injuries among the crew members. They got off the tanker. There were no Japanese members.” 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. Tehran said it has dispatched a helicopter from the port of Bandar-e-Jask to the ships’ location for “further investigation”.

US President Donald Trump has been briefed on the mysterious apparent attacks against two oil tankers near Iran, the White House said Thursday. “The president has been briefed on the attack on ships in the Gulf of Oman. The US government is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned as the Security Council prepared to meet to discuss suspected attacks on two oil tankers in a strategic sea lane.

At the request of the United States, the Security Council was to meet behind closed doors later Thursday to discuss the situation in the Gulf. Guterres said he strongly condemned any attack against civilian vessels. “Facts must be established and responsibilities clarified,” the UN secretary-general told a council meeting on UN cooperation with the Arab League. “If there is something the world cannot afford, it is a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”

US acting Ambassador Jonathan Cohen said it was “unacceptable for any party to attack commercial shipping,” stopping short blaming Iran. “Iran remains the most significant threat to regional peace and security, engaged in numerous malign activities in the region,” he told the council.

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