The crews of two oil tankers were evacuated Thursday after sending out distress calls following a new incident in the Gulf of Oman that sent world oil prices soaring.
The incident, the second involving shipping in the strategic sea lane in only a few weeks, came amid spiralling tensions between Tehran and Washington, which has pointed the finger at Iran over a first incident in May, and sent world oil prices soaring.
Iran said two oil tankers had been involved Thursday in an “accident” and its navy had rescued 44 crew.
The US Fifth Fleet said: “We are aware of the reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
“US 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.
“US Navy ships are in the area and are rendering assistance.”
Oil prices spiked after a merchant shipping information service run by Britain’s Royal Navy reported an “incident” in the Gulf of Oman.
“UK and its partners are currently investigating,” United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations (UKMTO) said on its website, without giving further details.
Global oil prices gained around four percent immediately after the reports of the attack. Benchmark Brent oil was trading at $61.74 a barrel, up about three percent.
The Gulf of Oman lies at the other end of the strategic Strait of Hormuz from the Gulf, part of a vital shipping lane through which at least 15 million barrels of crude oil and hundreds of millions of dollars of non-oil imports pass.
S&P-Platts news agency cited multiple shipping sources in Asia as saying one of the tankers, the Front Altair, built in 2016 and flagged in the Marshall Islands, caught fire near the Gulf of Oman prompting the evacuation of its crew.
It said that brokers, chartering sources and a shipping agent confirmed that at least two tankers had been damaged.
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.
The United States said Iranian naval mines were “almost certainly” behind the attack.
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.
Thursday’s incident came after Iran-aligned Huthi rebels on Wednesday said they had fired a missile at a Saudi airport. Saudi officials said 26 people were wounded in the attack on Ahba airport.
After last month’s incident US National Security Advisor John Bolton said Iran was almost certainly behind the oil tanker attack but declined to provide specific evidence that Tehran was involved.
– Danger to oil supplies –
Iran has repeatedly rejected the accusations that it was behind the sabotage.
But its arch-rival Saudi Arabia still maintains it was the most likely culprit.
Saudi Arabia’s 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 galvanise support among Islamic countries against arch-rival Iran.
The world’s top oil exporter has ratcheted up tensions with Iran after the sabotage attacks, which were followed by an attack on a key Saudi oil pipeline, which was claimed by the Huthi rebels.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was Thursday holding unprecedented talks in Tehran with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seeking to defuse the US-Iran tensions which have triggered global concern.