4:30am CST - The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet operating in the Gulf of Oman received two separate distress calls overnight from oil tankers that were on fire after being attacked. Both vessels were on fire and adrift as of 3:30am CST.
The attack comes just four weeks after war-like tensions arose between the U.S. and Iran with attacks on four tankers anchored off UAE in the Gulf of Oman on May 12th. The United States accused Iran of those attacks though Iranian officials deny any role. (See article https://energyink.us/26-issue-summer-19i_tanker-attack.html). Since then, an investigation by the UAE concluded that the attacks showed a "high degree of sophistication" where divers likely placed what are called limpet mines on the hulls of the four ships, according to BBC News.
The location of both overnight attacks, which occurred just 48 minutes apart (6:12am and 7am Thursday local time; 10:12pm & 11pm CST Wednesday) as they travelled south from the Strait of Hormuz, is nearly directly along the line of latitude of the previous attacks, roughly 75 miles (120 km) to the east and just 16 miles from the Iranian coast.
The Front Altair, flagged by the Marshall Islands, was carrying 75,000 metric tons of naphtha to Taiwan. Naphtha is produced from natural gas condensates and petroleum distillates and is used for distilling heavy oil and increasing octane in gasoline. A spokesman for the Taiwan company which chartered the vessel told BBC News they suspected the vessel was hit by a torpedo. The Wall Street Journal reported that the radio distress call from the Front Altair indicated that “fire came from a surface attack.”
CNN’s Asia office reported that the Japanese owner of the Panamanian registered Kokuka Courageous indicated it was hit twice by “some sort of shell”. As it was carrying methanol to Singapore, according to the report, a “shot” hit the tanker above the water line. After extinguishing the subsequent fire that broke out, a second shot hit the vessel prompting all 21 crew to abandon ship. The crews of both vessels, totaling 44, were rescued by passing vessels. There was one reported injury.
Though no one has taken credit, nor has any blame been placed at this hour, speculation will ultimately lead to Iranian involvement. Oddly, the Japanese Prime Minister was meeting with the Iranian “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the same time the attacks occurred. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Japan’s trade minister indicated both vessels were essentially carrying “Japan-related cargo”. Those Japan-Iran talks were aimed at easing tensions in the Mideast and between the United States and Iran.
On Wednesday, after talks with Iran concluded but before the attack was reported, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that any “accidental conflict” must be avoided to prevent further tensions between Iran and the U.S. according to USA Today. That message was delivered just hours after an Iranian backed Yemeni rebel group attacked a Saudi Airport Wednesday wounding 26 people.
Oil prices spike nearly 4% in overnight trading as a result of the attacks, according to Bloomberg.
The US Navy guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge is on station monitoring the situation.