France strongly condemned what it described as a “disturbing incident” involving two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday.
“We have learned that a disturbing incident involving two tankers in the Arabian Sea has occurred today, in the broader context of rising tensions in the region, as evidenced also by the attack on the [Abha airport] in Saudi Arabia yesterday, which we firmly condemned,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told CNN.
Yesterday a missile fired by rebels in Yemen landed in the arrivals hall of Abha airport in southwest Saudi Arabia, injuring 26 people according to Saudi officials.
“We call all the actors concerned, with whom we are in constant contact, to show restraint and de-escalation,” the French statement added. “We also would like to underscore our attachment to the freedom of navigation, which must absolutely be preserved.”
The two tankers were targeted Thursday morning in the Gulf of Oman, the same waterway where four commercial ships were attacked last month.
The attacks have ratcheted up existing tensions in the region, where Iran has long been at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia and the UAE — most recently over the civil war in Yemen.
The map in this post has been updated to correct the spelling of the Strait of Hormuz.
Thursday’s incident took place near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping route that has been the focal point of regional tensions for decades.
Roughly 30% of the world’s sea-borne crude oil passes through the strategic choke point, making it a flashpoint for political and economic friction.
The Strait of Hormuz links the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, separating Oman from its eastern neighbor, Iran. The strait is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, but is deep enough to handle the biggest tankers,
The US Energy Information Administration describes it as the “world’s most important choke point,” with roughly 80% of the crude it handles destined for markets in Asia.
Iran has previously made threats to block the waterway, but has not acted on them.
News that two tankers carrying “Japan-related cargo” were involved in a suspected attack broke during a high-stakes Japanese diplomatic mission to Iran.
The vessels were stricken in the Gulf of Oman, off the coast of Iran, on Thursday morning as Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran.
Abe, who arrived in Tehran on a visit widely viewed as an attempt to mediate US-Iran tensions, has not yet commented on the incident.
One of the tankers, Kokuka Courageous, is owned by Japan-based company Kokuka Sangyo. According to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, both tankers were carrying “Japan-related cargo.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said “suspicious doesn’t begin to describe” the incident coinciding with Abe’s visit.
“We voice concern about the suspicious incidents, which happened today for the oil tankers affiliated to Japan concurrently with a meeting between the Japanese prime minister and Supreme Leader,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi said in a post on Twitter.
The two tankers hit in a suspected attack in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday were flying Panama and Marshall Islands flags, respectively.
The Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous, a tanker owned by a Japan-based company, was en route to Singapore.
The Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair, an oil tanker owned by a Bermuda-based Norwegian firm, was en route to Taiwan.
The state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) released this photo, which purportedly shows one of the tankers on fire in the Gulf of Oman after a suspected attack Thursday. CNN has not independently verified this image.
US officials have not ruled out the possibility that the tankers involved in the Gulf of Oman incident Thursday were attacked by a projectile or hit an underwater mine.
“The US at this hour has not ruled out [that] the ships may have hit a mine in the water, or were attacked by a projectile. They are trying to determine the cause,” a US defense official told CNN.
A US P8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft is conducting surveillance in the area, according to the same source.
The guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge responded to the incident after the US Fifth Fleet — responsible for US naval forces in the area — received two separate distress calls on Thursday morning.
The US defense official said the destroyer took on board 21 mariners from the Kokuka Courageous tanker, who were originally rescued by a tug boat.
Thursday’s suspected attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman come a month after four commercial ships were hit in the same waterway, heightening tensions in a region already on edge.
But these reported attacks appear to be even more aggressive. Here’s the difference between the two incidents.
May 12 incident
In the incident on May 12, four ships were at anchor in the UAE port of Fujairah, a few kilometers from the coast, when they were apparently hit by mines or improvised explosive devices likely attached to their hulls overnight. The attacks caused no injuries and no evacuation. They were, essentially, pin-prick strikes, a subtle message.
The US and Saudi Arabia suspect Iran was behind those attacks — though no evidence of its involvement has been presented. Tehran denied any involvement, and precisely who carried out the attack is still under investigation.
The two tankers involved in today’s suspected attacks were some 70 kilometers from the UAE, closer to the Iranian coast.
One of them was hit above the water line by what witnesses described as “some sort of shell,” according to an official from the firm that owns the boat. The other ship caught on fire following an explosion. The crews of both boats were evacuated.
There has been no assigning of blame thus far today, but the volume has been turned up.
- Flying a Panama flag
- Managed by BSM ship management (based in Singapore)
- Owned by Kokuka Sangyo (based in Japan)
- A managed goods carrier that was transporting methanol (cargo is intact)
- Was en route to Singapore
- 21 sailors on board. All evacuated, 1 injured, 20 unharmed
- The vessel is about 70 nautical miles from Fujairah and about 14 nautical miles from the coast of Iran
- BSM says the ship remains in the area and is not in danger of sinking
- Flying a Marshall Islands flag
- Managed by Dubai-based International Tanker Management
- Owned by Bermuda-based Norwegian firm Frontline
- An oil tanker, which was transporting naphtha (a type of crude oil)
- Was en route to Taiwan
- 23 sailors on board. All evacuated, 23 unharmed
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said “suspicious doesn’t begin to describe” the incident involving two tankers in the Gulf of Oman this morning.
Zarif said news of the reported attacks on Japan-linked tankers broke while Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
One of the two tankers involved in the incident, Kokuka Courageous, is owned by Japan-based company Kokuka Sangyo. According to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry both tankers were carrying “Japan-related cargo.”
Abe is currently in Tehran on a visit viewed as an attempt to mediate US-Iran tensions — it is also the first trip by a Japanese premier since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.
Iran’s proposed Regional Dialogue Forum is imperative.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 13, 2019
The UK government has said it is “deeply concerned” about an incident involving two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
“We are deeply concerned by reports of explosions and fires on vessels in the Strait of Hormuz,” a government spokesperson told CNN on Thursday.
“We are in contact with local authorities and partners in the region.”
A fire broke out after an explosion on board the Front Altair, one of two ships involved in the security incident in the Gulf of Oman, according to International Tanker Management (ITM), which manages the tanker.
An investigation is underway into the cause of the explosion, which is as yet unknown, and ITM is working on plans to salvage the vessel.
All 23 crew members, who were unharmed, were picked up by another vessel, according to ITM. The front Altair was in the southern end of the Strait of Hormuz when the incident occurred.
The Kokuka Courageous, one of two ships involved in the security incident in the Gulf of Oman, was “attacked” twice with “some sort of shell,” an official from the Japanese owner of the ship told CNN.
The first shot hit the tanker above sea level and the vessel caught fire briefly before the blaze was extinguished, according to Michio Yuube, the co-manager of the Japanese firm Kokuka Sangyo.
All 21 Philippine crew members on board the tanker were evacuated in life boats after the second shot and rescued by another ship now heading towards the UAE.
Yuube said that the attack happened off Fujaira, and that the Kokuka Courageous is now drifting with a shipment of chemical products onboard.
Forty-four sailors and crew members have been rescued by Iran’s navy from two tankers in the Gulf of Oman and have been taken to the Iranian island of Jask, according to Iran state-run news agency IRNA, citing informed sources on Thursday.
The report claimed the ships were “targeted” but did not detail by whom, or what.
Jask is an Iranian port in the south, about 12.5 miles from Oman’s shore.
The US Fifth Fleet, responsible for US naval forces in the area, said that it had received two separate distress calls on Thursday morning and that US Navy ships were rendering assistance.
US crude oil futures surged as much as 4% on Thursday following reports that two tankers had been attacked in the Gulf of Oman.
US crude futures had been trading near their lowest levels in five months, but they rebounded as traders reacted to reports of the attacks, gaining 2.3% to trade at $52.25 a barrel by 4:30 a.m. ET.
The price for Brent crude, the global benchmark, surged 2.4% to $61.37 a barrel.
All 21 crew members on the Panamanian ship Kokuka Courageous, one of two ships reportedly hit in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, abandoned their vessel, the Singapore-based Bernard Schulte Shipping Management (BSM) company said in a statement.
One of the sailors on board was injured in the incident, BSM added.
The second ship involved in the incident is the “Front Altair,” which was on fire on Thursday morning.
The incident is being investigated by the United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations (UKMTO), a maritime security sharing conduit managed by Britain’s Royal Navy.
Here’s the full statement:
The 21 crew of the vessel abandoned ship after the incident on board which resulted in damage to the ship’s hull starboard side.
The master and crew abandoned ship and were quickly rescued from a lifeboat by the nearby vessel Coastal Ace.
One crew man from the Kokuka Courageous was slightly injured in the incident and is receiving 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.
BSM’s top priority is the wellbeing of the 21 crew on board our managed vessel. The Coastal Ace is in the vicinity at a safe distance from the Kokuka Courageous.
The vessel is about 70 nautical miles from Fujairah and about 14 nautical miles from the coast of Iran.
The Coastal Ace is now awaiting instructions from the UK Marine Trade Operations which is responding to the incident.
BSM Ship Management is monitoring the situation in the Gulf of Oman closely and will issue another statement when we have factual information.
An oil tanker managed by the Bermuda-based shipping company Frontline suffered a fire on Thursday morning while sailing through the Gulf of Oman, a spokesman for the company told CNN on Thursday.
The causes of the fire on the “Front Altair” are still unclear but “all the crew were evacuated and they are all safe,” the spokesman said.
A British maritime safety body said it was investigating “an incident” in the Gulf of Oman after reports that two oil tankers had been attacked.
“UK and its partners are currently investigating,” United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations (UKMTO), a maritime security sharing conduit managed by Britain’s Royal Navy, said in an advisory on Thursday.