Two tankers were 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. Zarif tweeted, “suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.”
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.
The crew left the burning vessel stranded and jumped into the waters before being rescued by Iranian vessels.
The attack spiked the global oil prices, Benchmark Brent oil was trading at $61.74 a barrel, three percent up.
The Gulf of Oman lies at the other end of the strategic Strait of Hormuz from the Gulf, where a part of a vital shipping lane through which at least 15 million barrels of crude oil and hundreds of millions of dollars of non-oil imports pass.
Source : Various