Two tankers were damaged Thursday in suspected attacks in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Fujairah and their crews have been evacuated to safety in an incident likely to add to the ongoing tensions in the region surrounding Iran.
An oil tanker owned by Norway's Frontline has been struck by a torpedo off the coast of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, shipping newspaper Tradewinds reported. Frontline confirmed later on Thursday that its oil tanker Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair was on fire after an incident in the Gulf of Oman, Norwegian newspaper VG reported, quoting a company spokesman. All 23 crew members were brought to safety at a nearby vessel, the spokesman added.
The oil tanker chartered by Taiwan's state oil refiner CPC Corp Oil tanker was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha, a petrochemical feedstock, when it was "suspected of being hit by a torpedo" around noon Taiwan time (0400GMT), Wu I-Fang, CPC's petrochemical business division CEO, told Reuters. He said all crew members have been rescued.
Front Altair was last seen off Iran in the Gulf of Oman after loading its cargo from Ruwais in the United Arab Emirates, according to shipping data on Refinitiv Eikon.
The incident damaged the right side of the Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous, forcing the vessel's crew members to abandon the ship. One crewman from the Kokuka Courageous was slightly injured.
"The Kokuka Courageous remains in the area and is not in any danger of sinking. The cargo of methanol is intact," Singapore-based BSM Ship Management said.
It said the vessel is about 70 nautical miles from the United Arab Emirates and just 14 from the coast of Iran.
Iran's navy rescued 44 crew members from two oil tankers which caught fire after an "accident" in the Sea of Oman on Thursday, official news agency IRNA reported.
"Forty-four sailors from the two foreign oil tankers which had an accident this morning in the Sea of Oman were saved from the water by the (navy) rescue unit of Hormozgan province and transferred to the port of Bandar-e-Jask," IRNA quoted an "informed source" as saying.
Tehran said it has dispatched a helicopter from the port of Bandar-e-Jask to the ships' location for "further investigation."
The Kokuka Courageous was bound for Japan, whose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a high-stakes visit in Tehran that sought to ease tensions between Iran and the United States. On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Abe warned that any "accidental conflict" that could be sparked amid the heightened U.S.-Iran tensions must be avoided. His message came just hours after Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, striking its arrivals hall before dawn and wounding 26 people Wednesday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that "reported attacks on Japan-related" oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman had taken place while Abe was meeting Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei "for extensive and friendly talks."
"Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired this morning," he tweeted. "Iran's proposed Regional Dialogue Forum is imperative."
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is part of the Royal Navy, had said on Thursday it was aware of an incident in the Gulf of Oman, near the Iranian coast.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet said on Thursday that its vessels in the Middle East have received distress calls from two tankers reportedly under attack in the Gulf of Oman.
"We are aware of the reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman," said a statement from the Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain.
"U.S. naval forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 am. local time and a second one at 7:00 am," the statement said.
"U.S. Navy ships are in the area and are rendering assistance."
Oil prices jumped as much as 4% on Thursday after the attacks near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of global oil consumption passes.
The incident followed last month's nearby sabotage attacks on vessels off the Fujairah emirate, one of the world's largest bunkering hubs.
Brent crude futures were up $1.72 at $61.69 a barrel by 0757 GMT, having risen earlier by as much as 4.45% to $62.64.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were up $1.32 at $52.46 a barrel. WTI earlier rose as much as 3.85% to $53.11.
Both benchmarks are nevertheless headed for a weekly loss.
Oil prices had slumped in the previous session on an unexpected rise in U.S. crude stockpiles and a dimming outlook for global oil demand.
On May 12, four oil tankers -- two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati -- were damaged in still unexplained attacks in the Gulf of Oman off the United Arab Emirates.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said on May 29 that naval mines "almost certainly from Iran," and warned Tehran against conducting new operations but declined to provide specific evidence that Tehran was involved.
The UAE said last week that initial findings of a five-nation investigation delivered to the United Nations pointed to the likelihood that a state was behind the bombings, but added there was no evidence yet that Iran was involved.
Iran has repeatedly rejected accusations that it was behind the sabotage. But its arch-rival Saudi Arabia still maintains it was the most likely culprit.
Saudi King Salman earlier this month warned a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that "terrorist" attacks in the Gulf region could imperil global oil supplies, as he sought to galvanize support among Islamic countries against Iran.
Tensions in the Middle East have escalated since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 multinational nuclear pact with Iran and reimposed sanctions, notably targeting Tehran's key oil exports.
Iran, which has distanced itself from the previous attacks, has said it would not be cowed by what it called psychological warfare.
Also supporting oil bulls were signs that OPEC members were close to reaching an agreement on continuing production cuts.