Tensions Brew In Gulf Of Oman
An oil tanker carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha was “torpedoed” and another tanker carrying methanol was “hit” by naval mines early on Thursday near Strait of Hormuz in Gulf of Oman, according to various media reports.
The Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, Front Altair, was heading to Taiwan from UAE when it was “torpedoed” and the Panama-flagged tanker, Kokuka Courageous, was “attacked” while heading to Singapore with cargo loaded from Saudi Arabia.
In May, four tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, in a similar incident, leading to tensions between US-backed Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The fresh attacks have led to a 4% surge in oil prices and raising the already heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Responding to the incident, US Secretary of State Dept Michael Richard Pompeo had tweeted that it is the assessment of the U.S. government that Iran is responsible for today's attacks in the Gulf of Oman.
“These attacks are a threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran,” his tweet read.
Around 6pm on Thursday, US Navy had said in a statement that 21 mariners from the M/V Kokuka Courageous, who abandoned ship, were rescued and are currently aboard USS Bainbridge.
“USS Bainbridge remains in close contact with the M/V Kokuka Courageous and is the on-scene U.S. command authority. No interference with USS Bainbridge, or its mission, will be tolerated,” the statement had said adding that USS Mason (DDG 87) is en route to the scene to provide assistance.
Meanwhile, a statement by the Kokuka Courageous's management company, BSM Ship Management (Singapore), said 21 crew members of the vessel abandoned the ship after an incident on board which resulted in damage to its hull's starboard side.
“The crew of 21 seafarers, abandoned ship after the incident on board which resulted in damage to the ship’s hull starboard side,” the statement read.
“The master and crew abandoned ship and were quickly rescued from a lifeboat by the vessel Coastal Ace, a nearby vessel. One seafarer from the Kokuka Courageous was mildly injured in the incident and has been administered first aid on board the Coastal Ace. The Kokuka Courageous remains in the area and is not in any danger of sinking. The cargo of methanol is intact,” the statement added.
And later in the day, Wu I-Fang, Taiwan’s CPC's petrochemical business division CEO, had told the Reuters news agency that all crew members on Front Altair had been rescued.
Front Altair was chartered by Taiwan.
However, Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that Iranian search and rescue teams picked up 44 sailors - 21 from the Kokuka Courageous and 23 from the Front Altair - following the incidents and took them to the nearby port of Jask.
Paolo d'Amico, chairman of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO), said in a statement that he was concerned about further disruption in the area, warning the "supply to the entire Western world could be at risk".
"I am extremely worried about the safety of our crews going through the Strait of Hormuz," the statement read.
Responding to the incident, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted in English that the incidents as "suspicious", with the reported attacks coinciding with a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Oil tankers carrying crude from ports on the Persian Gulf must pass through the strait. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, around18.5 million barrels a day of crude and refined products moved through it in 2016, nearly a third of all seaborne-traded oil and almost 20% of all oil produced globally making the Strait of Hormuz the world’s most sensitive oil transportation choke point.
On Wednesday, Suadi Arabia’s civilian airport was hit by a missile reportedly fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels injuring 26 people.