Two oil tankers were attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, according to reports, an incident that left one of the ships on fire and drifting. The crew of both boats were evacuated, and the US Navy came to assist, amid growing tensions between Washington and Tehran.
The two ships carried “cargo related to Japan,” according to the Japanese Ministry of Commerce. The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, was finalizing an official visit to Tehran that aimed to reduce tensions.
The reference Brent crude barrel rose by 4% in operations after the alleged attack, reaching 62 dollars per barrel, reflecting the importance of the area for the international energy market. A third of all oil transported by sea passes through that strait, which gives access to the Persian Gulf.
The incident occurred after the United States accused Iran of using mines to attack four oil tankers in the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah. Iran denies any involvement. In recent weeks, Yemeni rebels supported by Iran also launched missile and drone strikes against Saudi Arabia.
The US 5th Fleet was assisting the two ships affected by a “supposed attack,” said Commodore Joshua Frey, spokesman for the contingent. He did not say how the ships had been attacked or who was supposedly responsible.
Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, preliminarily identified one of the affected ships as the MT Front Altair, an oil tanker with the flag of the Marshall Islands. The ship was “on fire and adrift,” according to the agency, which did not indicate the reason for the incident nor mention the second vessel.
The company that manages Front Altair told The Associated Press that an explosion had caused the fire on board. International Tanker Managed declined to comment further, noting that they were still investigating. Its 23 crew members were safe after being evacuated by another nearby ship, the Hyundai Dubai.
The second ship was identified as the Kokuka Courageous. The shipping company BSM Ship Management said it had suffered damage to the hull and that 21 crew members had been evacuated, one of them with minor injuries.
The Iranian state television said the 44 sailors of the two tankers had been moved to an Iranian port in the southern province of Hormozgan.
The incident occurred at a particularly sensitive time during the visit of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a crucial diplomatic mission. Abe warned on Wednesday after meeting with Iranian President Hasan Ruhani that any “accidental conflict” that could derive from tensions between Washington and Tehran should be avoided.
The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tehran “will not repeat in any way” the negotiations with the United States while collapsing the 2015 nuclear pact signed with international powers.
Khamenei made the remarks during a meeting with Abe, which would point out that the Japanese president’s visit would not have achieved his goal of reducing tensions between the United States and Iran.
“I do not see Trump as deserving of any exchange of messages, and I do not have, and I will not have an answer for him,” Khamenei told Abe, according to his official website.
Khamenei added that while Tehran does not want an atomic bomb, “the United States could not do anything” to prevent it if Iran wanted to develop it.
EU blames Iran for attacks on two oil tankers
The United States believes Iran is responsible for the attacks that damaged two oil tankers near the Persian Gulf, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Speaking at a press conference in Washington D.C., Pompeo said the attacks on the ships are part of a “campaign” of “escalation of tension” by Iran and a threat to international peace and security.
He warned that the United States will defend its forces and interests in the region, but did not give details about any plan and did not accept questions.
The oil tankers were attacked hours before near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and one of them flared, in what constitutes the most recent mysterious incident against ships transiting through a region crucial for the world’s energy supply, amid growing tensions between Iran and the United States.
The United States Navy quickly went to help the affected ships in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Iran, and the ship operators did not offer any immediate explanation as to which weapons caused the damage or