An LR2 and a small chemical tanker carrying methanol have been the subject of reported attacks off the Iranian coast
Norwegian tanker owning giant Frontline’s LR2 Front Altair is reportedly on fire with a salvage ship circling and the Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement-managed methanol carrier Kokuka Courageous’s crew has abandoned ship after the vessel was holed.
The US Navy’s 5th fleet confirmed it responded to distress calls at 6:12 am and 7 am local (Bahraini) time and sent the Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge to provide assistance.
“We are aware of the reported attack on shipping vessels in the Gulf of Oman but do not have any further information available,” a US Navy spokesperson told Tanker Shipping & Trade.
Frontline Management chief executive Robert MacLeod told TST in an email that Front Altair’s crew is safe and the vessel has “NOT sunk”, contrary to some reports.
UK-based crisis response unit Maritime Technical International’s chairman and founding partner Pat Adamson told TST, “The good news is there’s a salvage vessel that is circling the vessel’s position at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, so we can prove pictorially that the vessel is above the waves.”
Mr Adamson said he was still working to confirm some of the facts, liaising with Frontline and the ship’s management company International Tanker Management in Dubai.
In response to the incidents, the Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA) raised the ISPS/MASRSEC security level for Norwegian-flagged vessels travelling in the Strait of Hormuz.
“Due to the attacks and the unconfirmed circumstances,” the NMA instructed CSO, SSO and Masters to “keep well clear of Iranian territorial waters.”
“Vessels arriving Strait of Hormuz within the boundaries of N25° - N28° and E054° - E058° are requested to implement security measures as described in their SSP according to ISPS/MarSec level #2,” NMA said.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) said it has launched a “full-scale emergency response following a security incident” on board the product carrier Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman.
The company said the 21 crew on board abandoned ship due to damage to the ship’s hull on its starboard side.
“Kokuka Courageous remains in the area and is not in any danger of sinking. The cargo of methanol is intact… The master and crew abandoned ship and were quickly rescued from a lifeboat by the vessel Coastal Ace,” BSM said.
Netherlands-flagged Coastal Ace is listed as a utility vessel under its IMO vessel code and its AIS tracker shows the vessel’s position offshore from the Iranian port of Bandar-e Jask.
Iran’s official news agency Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported “an informed source” who said that 44 crew from “Marshall Islands-flagged… and Panama-flagged” tankers had been rescued and transported to the port of Jask in Iran’s southern Hormuzgan province, “as a result of Iran’s humanitarian aid and assistance”.
Frontline’s Front Altair is Marshall Islands-flagged and Japanese tanker owner Kokuka Sangyo’s Kokuka Courageous is Panama-flagged.
Japan’s head of state Shinzo Abe is currently in Iran for bilateral talks and has raised his concerns around increasing tensions in the region.
Prime Minister Abe was meeting with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the time of the attacks, according to Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who tweeted about the “suspicious” nature and timings of the incidents.
"Reported attacks on Japan-related tankers occurred while PM @AbeShinzo was meeting with Ayatollah @khamenei_ir for extensive and friendly talks… Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning," he tweeted.
International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko) chairman Paolo d’Amico released a statement following the incidents.
“Following two attacks on member vessels this morning, I am extremely worried about the safety of our crews going through the Straits of Hormuz. We have people of every nationality and vessels of every flag transiting that crucial sealane every day," he said.
“Looking longer term, we need to remember that some 30% of the world’s crude oil passes through the Straits. If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk.”
The image above shows the two tankers’ proximity to Iran’s territorial waters (image courtesy: VesselsValue)
Tensions have been on the rise in the region since US President Donald Trump announced the reinstatement of sanctions against Iran in 2018, pulling the US out of an Obama administration-negotiated nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Just a week before the tankers were damaged, the US announced plans to reposition a warship and called in a Patriot missile system to the Middle East Gulf to counter unspecified ’threats’ from Iran and sent US B-52 bombers to neighbouring Qatar.
The Strait of Hormuz region is a natural chokepoint for tankers sailing to load at Saudi Arabian oil terminals in the Middle East Gulf and an outlet for Iranian frustrations as President Trump applies added pressure on the regime.