Two oil tankers are now adrift in the Gulf of Oman, one ablaze and both abandoned, after what the shipping firms say are attacks involving a magnetic mine and a torpedo. The crews of both tankers — one Norwegian-owned, the other Japanese — have been rescued, the U.S. Navy aiding in the effort.
"The Front Altair, carrying petrochemical feedstock, was on fire in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran after an explosion that a source blamed on a magnetic mine. The Norwegian owner said its crew were safe," Reuters. "A second Japanese-owned tanker was abandoned after being hit by a suspected torpedo, the firm that chartered the ship said. The crew were also picked up."
The Front Altair, owned by Norway's Frontline, is believed to have been "hit by a torpedo" at around 0400 GMT, Taiwan's state oil refiner said. The ship was carrying 75,000 tonnes of petrochemical feedstock to Taiwan.
The Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous is believed to have been struck by a magnetic mine, suffering damage above the water line. The owner says the ship was hit twice over a three-hour period. The ship is currently "adrift without any crew on board," a source told Reuters.
Iranian international news network Press TV has posted footage of the Front Altair ablaze, as well as photos of the Kokuka Courageous:
The U.S. Navy fleet based in Bahrain is assisting the two tankers. "We are aware of the reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman. U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time and a second one at 7:00 a.m.,'' the Fifth Fleet's Joshua Frey said, Fox News reports.
The U.S. has not yet assigned blame for the attacks, but Reuters notes that they are the second in a month near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most important oil supply waterways. Four tankers were damaged by limpet mines in May, attacks the U.S. and its regional ally Saudi Arabia have blamed on Iran, who denies involvement.
The attacks follow Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Tehran in which he called on both sides to deescalate the increasingly tense situation, which involves more severe sanctions imposed by the U.S.
"Tensions have risen since President Donald Trump, who has demanded Tehran curb its military programs 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," reports Reuters.
In late May, the U.S. military determined that Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) were responsible for attacks on four ships in the Persian Gulf earlier in the month. "The attack against the shipping in Fujairah we attribute it to the IRGC," said Joint Staff director Rear Admiral Michael Gilday. The U.S. designated the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in April.
"Gulf officials have characterized the damage to the tankers as sabotage," the Associated Press reported. "Two Saudi oil tankers, a Norwegian-flagged vessel, and a bunkering tanker flagged in Sharjah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates, all suffered similar damage Sunday."
This article has been expanded to include more information.