Tankers attacked with ‘mine and torpedo’ in Gulf of Oman

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Above, fire aboard the oil tanker Front Altair in the Gulf of Oman after a reported attack. (Reuters)
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Above, fire aboard the oil tanker Front Altair in the Gulf of Oman after a reported attack. (Reuters)
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Above, fire aboard the oil tanker Front Altair in the Gulf of Oman after a reported attack. (IRINN/AFP)
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A screen capture obtained by AFP from Iranian State TV IRNN on June 13, 2019, reportedly shows the two tankers involved in an incident off the Coast of Oman. (IRINN/AFP)
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Teams putting out a fire on board an oil tanker attacked in the Gulf of Oman. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2019
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Tankers attacked with ‘mine and torpedo’ in Gulf of Oman

  • Crews of Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous evacuated safely as one ship burns
  • Arab League says ‘some parties in the region are trying to start fires in the region’

DUBAI: Two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman Thursday, leaving one ablaze and both adrift.

The attacks sent oil prices up by more than 3 percent by mid-afternoon over worries about Middle East supplies. They come at a time of heightened tensions over Iran’s activities in the region and after Tehran has repeatedly threatened to disrupt shipping in and out of the Arabian Gulf.

Thursday’s attacks took place to the east of the Strait of Hormuz, a major strategic waterway for world oil supplies, that leads into the Arabian Gulf.

The first ship, the Front Altair was on fire in between the coast of Iran and the UAE after an explosion. The Norwegian owner said its crew were safe.

A second Japanese-owned tanker, the Kokuka Courageous, was abandoned after being hit by a suspected torpedo, the firm that chartered the ship said. The crew were also picked up.

Bernhard Schulte Ship management said the hull of the Kokuka Courageous was breached above the water line while transporting methanol from Jubail in Saudi Arabia to Singapore. It said the ship was afloat and the crew safe with one minor injury reported.

A shipping broker said the blast that struck the Kokuka Courageous might have been caused by a magnetic mine. Japan’s Kokuka Sangyo, owner of the Kokuka Courageous, said its ship was hit twice over a three-hour period.

Taiwan’s state oil refiner CPC said the Front Altair, owned by Norway's Frontline, was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo” around 4 a.m. GMT, as it carried 75,000 tonnes of the petrochemical feedstock naphtha to Taiwan.

Frontline said its vessel was on fire but afloat, denying a report by the Iranian news agency IRNA that the vessel had sunk.

The Bahrain-based US Navy Fifth Fleet said it was assisting the two tankers after receiving distress calls.

TV images showed huge, thick plumes of smoke and fire billowing from one of the tankers as it lay out to sea.

The master of the Front Altair ordered the 23-member crew to abandon ship after a blast, International Tanker Management, the technical manager of the vessel, said. It said the crew were picked up by the nearby Hyundai Dubai.

The Front Altair loaded its cargo from Ruwais in the UAE, according to trade sources and shipping data on Refinitiv Eikon.

Iran’s IRNA reported that Iranian search and rescue teams had picked up 44 sailors from two damaged tankers and had taken them to the Iranian port of Jask. That report could not immediately be confirmed.

Ship tracking websites showed the two ships halting their course early Thursday after they had passed through the Strait of Hormuz

The Front Altair performed a hard turn to starboard just before 3 a.m. GMT and turning full circle. The Kokuka Courageous changed course after 7 a.m. GMT

Tensions have risen in the Gulf since an Iranian threat prompted the US last month to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region.

Teams putting out a fire on board an oil tanker attacked in the Gulf of Oman. (AFP)

Within days of the announcement, four ships were attacked with limpet mines while moored off the UAE coast. Saudi Arabia and the US blamed the incident on Iran.

On Wednesday, a missile fired by Yemen-based Houthi militants, which are supported by Iran, struck Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport, injuring 26. The Houthis also claimed an armed drone strike last month on Saudi oil pumping stations.

President Donald Trump, who has demanded Tehran curb its military programmes and influence in the Middle East, pulled the United States out of a deal between Iran and global powers to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

In recent months, the US has used punishing sanctions to reduce Iran’s oil exports to a trickle. Saudi Arabia and other oil producers in the region have increased production to fill the void and keep prices on track. 

Thursday’s attacks prompted strong international condemnation and deep  concern of the impact on shipping in an area which carries so much of the world’s oil supply.

“We need to remember that some 30 percent of the world’s (seaborne) crude oil passes through the Straits. If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk,” said Paolo d’Amico, chairman of INTERTANKO tanker association.

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Two tanker owners suspend Gulf bookings as tension now ‘as high as it gets’

US blames Iran for Gulf of Oman tanker attacks

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Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit called on the U.N. Security Council to act against those responsible to maintain security in the Gulf region.

"Some parties in the region are trying to instigate fires in the region and we must be aware of that," he told the 15-member council, without specifically naming anyone.

The White House said Donald Trump had been briefed on the incident and Britain said it was “deeply concerned.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antinio Guterres strongly condemned the attacks and warned that the world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf.

The European Union called for "maximum restraint" to avoid an escalation in the region.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the incidents as “suspicious” on Twitter, noting that they occurred during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Tehran. 

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said people should not rush to blame Iran. Abe’s trip was designed to seek to defuse tensions with the US.

Analysts said the severity of the attacks was a marked escalation compared to the incident in Fujairah in May.

“Security will no doubt be beefed up, but it will have to be extended further if there is any repetition of such an attack,” Robin Mills, CEO of consultancy Qamar Energy, told Arab News. “This goes considerably … beyond the last Fujairah attacks.”

Within hours of the attacks, at least two oil-tanker owners — DHT Holdings and Heidmar — said they had suspended new bookings to the Gulf, Reuters reported.

Shipping association BIMCO, which represents some 60 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, urged its members to “exercise extreme caution” in the area.

“The tension in the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Gulf is now as high as it gets without being an actual armed conflict,” Peter Sand, chief shipping analyst at BIMCO, told Arab News. 

“(We advise) our members to exercise extreme caution and instruct their vessels to take precautions … when operating in the area. Depending on the risk acceptance levels of the company, and to the extent operations allow, it could be considered to instruct ships to avoid the area or keep as much distance as possible.”

Sand said it was understandable that some shipping companies had stopped bookings to the area but doubted whether others will follow. 

*With Agencies 


Militant rocket fire kills 12 civilians in Syria: state media

Updated 48 min 18 sec ago
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Militant rocket fire kills 12 civilians in Syria: state media

  • Former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham being blamed for the attack

DAMASCUS: Rocket fire has killed 12 civilians in a regime-held village in northwestern Syria, state news agency SANA has said blaming former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham for the attack.

SANA said 15 people were also wounded late Sunday in the attack on Al-Wadihi village south of Aleppo city and said HTS, which controls parts of Aleppo’s countryside as well as most of neighboring Idlib, was responsible.

It published graphic pictures purporting to show some of the victims in a hospital in the aftermath of the attack, including of bandaged men and children lying on stretchers, thick blankets covering their bodies.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the same death toll — saying five children were among those killed — and also blamed militants based in rural Aleppo for the attack.

But the Britain-based monitor did not specify whether HTS or other allied militant groups were responsible.

The attack came as Syrian government forces have been locked in clashes with HTS fighters in nearby Hama province.

More than 35 combatants, mostly regime forces, were killed on Saturday in battles in Hama’s countryside, according to the Observatory.

Parts of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib are supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented as militants refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, HTS extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian government and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.