Torpedo Attack Suspected: 2 Oil Tankers Damaged in Gulf of Oman

June 13, 2019 Updated: June 13, 2019

Two oil tankers were damaged in the Gulf of Oman early on June 13, prompting the rescue of dozens of crew members.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet said that it was assisting the tankers in the gulf after distress calls were sent out, Reuters reported.

While details of the incident remain scant, one of the operators said that a torpedo hit its ship, Reuters reported. However, the torpedo claim hasn’t been officially confirmed.

“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.,” Joshua Frey of the Fifth Fleet told the report.

The United States didn’t name anyone in the attack.

However, an unnamed U.S. defense official told CBS News that it was “highly likely Iran caused these attacks” on the tankers, and the official dismissed Iran’s claims to have rescued the crews of both ships as “patently false.” The USS Bainbridge picked up 21 crew members, according to reports.

The damaged vessels were identified as the MT Front Altair, a Norwegian-owned crude oil tanker that was heading to Japan. The other vessel hasn’t yet been named.

A second Japanese-owned tanker was also hit by the alleged torpedo, Reuters reported, citing the company that chartered the vessel.

The Associated Press identified the second vessel was as the Kokuka Courageous.

“We need to remember that some 30% 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, to Reuters.

The suspected attacks come amid heightened tensions with Iran.

It marks the latest mysterious incident to target the region’s oil tankers. The United States alleged that Iran used limpet mines to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah last month. Iran has denied being involved, but it comes as Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen also have launched missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, The Associated Press noted.

The firm that operates the Front Altair told The Associated Press that an explosion was the cause of the fire onboard. International Tanker Management declined to comment further saying they are still investigating what caused the explosion. Its crew of 23 is safe after being evacuated by the nearby Hyundai Dubai vessel, it said.

According to Bloomberg, Iran distanced itself from the attack claims.

“Iran is concerned by the suspicious events around commercial tankers related to Japan,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said. “We see this as going against efforts from within the region and beyond to reduce tensions.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.