Two oil tankers were on fire after a suspected attack in the Gulf of Oman, the same waterway where four other commercial ships sustained serious damage last month after the U.S. said they were hit by Iranian mines.
The Norwegian shipping firm Frontline, which owns Front Altair, said its vessel had suffered an explosion, the cause of which was not yet known. All 23 crew members aboard the vessel carrying naphtha had been brought to safety by a nearby vessel, the Hyundai Dubai, according to Norway's VG newspaper, quoting a company official.
BSM Ship Management, which operates Kokuka Courageous said in a statement that all 21 crew members on its ship, which had been loaded with methanol, were rescued with only minor injuries by the vessel Coastal Ace after an "incident on board which resulted in damage to the ship's hull starboard side."
Hamburg, Germany-based BSM said the Kokuka Courageous "remains in the area and is not in danger of sinking" and that the cargo was "intact."
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency reported that multiple tankers had been seriously damaged. It claimed that Iranian rescue crews had picked up all 44 crew members from both ships and that the Front Altair had sunk, but Reuters reports that a spokesman for Frontline denied the report.
The Bahrain-based U.S. Navy 5th Fleet said in a statement: "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." Meanwhile, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out an alert warning of an unspecified incident in the Gulf of Oman and urging mariners to exercise "extreme caution" in the area.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the alleged attacks. However, the U.S. has said that Iran used mines to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah last month. Iran has denied being involvement.
In its statement, BSM said its tanker "is about 70 nautical miles from Fujairah and about 14 nautical miles from the coast of Iran."
The last reported position for both vessels, as tracked by the website VesselFinder, placed them in close proximity with each other and near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow choke point separating the Gulf of Oman from the Persian Gulf that Iran has repeatedly threatened to close off in response to U.S. sanctions over Tehran's nuclear weapons program.
Japan's Trade Ministry says the two oil tankers carried "Japan-related" cargo, according to The Associated Press. The incidents come as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is on an official visit to Iran.
The price of Brent crude spiked by as more than 4 percent following reports of tanker fires to $61.80 a barrel at 11:51 a.m. in Dubai, according to Bloomberg.
This is a developing story. Some things reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.
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