UK and IMO representatives have expressed concern and shipowner groups called for calm and co-operation after tankers traversing the Gulf of Oman suffered multiple explosions
A Norwegian authority offered a straightforward account of what it described as attacks on tankers – including the Norwegian-owned Front Altair – in the Gulf of Oman off Iran’s coast.
"Today, on 13 June 2019 at 06.03, the Marshall Island-flagged tanker, the Front Altair, was attacked between the Emirates and Iran. There were reportedly three detonations on board the ship. The crew have been rescued by a passing ship and no injuries are reported," the Norwegian Maritime Authority said in a statement.
"The ship is now on fire, and measures to resolve the situation have been implemented. A second tanker, the Kokuka Courageous, has reportedly also been attacked in the same area."
Japanese shipowner Kokuka Sangyo’s President Yutaka Katada said his company’s ship Kokuka Courageous was hit by explosions twice over a three-hour period, according to reports. The vessels’ crew abandoned ship and were picked up by a passing vessel.
Representing tanker-owning interests, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko) offered a similarly strongly worded statement.
"The unprovoked attack against two tankers on innocent passage in international waters in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday 13 June, unacceptably threatens the lives of innocent seafarers, the fragile environment of the region and the economies of the world," Intertanko said.
"The latest incidents saw two Intertanko members’ vessels suffer explosions at or below the waterline, in close proximity to the engineroom, while underway. These appeared to be well-planned and co-ordinated."
BIMCO, an association that represents some 60% of the world’s merchant fleet by tonnage called for diplomacy.
"The tension in the Strait of Hormuz and the [Middle East] Gulf is now as high as it gets without being an actual armed conflict," BIMCO’s head of maritime security Jakob P Larsen said.
With 30% of crude oil cargoes travelling via the Strait of Hormuz, reports about the incidents saw global oil prices surge. West Texas Intermediate went up 3.5% to US$53 a barrel during trading, while Brent crude jumped 4.5% to US$62 a barrel.
Intertanko said the international shipping industry is "caught in the middle of a geo-political conflict over which it has no control" and called on "the nations of the world to calm tensions in the region".
A spokesman for the UK’s Ministry of Defence said the government is "deeply concerned by reports of explosions and fires on vessels in the Gulf of Oman" and "in contact with local authorities and partners in the region".
IMO secretary general Kitack Lim condemned what he said were ’suspected attacks’ in a speech at the Maritime Safety Committee’s 101st session in London.
Secretary general Lim said "These suspected attacks, coupled with the attacks in the UAE last month, concern me greatly".
"I urge all member states to redouble their efforts to work together to find a lasting solution to ensure the safety and security of international shipping around the globe and protection of the marine environment," Mr Lim said.
The Japanese trade minister reportedly urged calm, saying the supsected tanker attacks had not affected Japan’s energy supply and that Japan will take measures to maintain a stable energy supply.
Japan’s head of state Shinzo Abe was in Iran for bilateral talks aimed at de-escalating tensions that have heightened 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.
Japan halted its refineries imports from Iran at the end of March 2019 in line with the terms of US sanctions.
In May, four tankers, two of which were Saudi-owned, were holed in suspected attacks near Fujairah.
Just a week before the four tankers were damaged, the US announced plans to reposition a warship and called in a Patriot missile system to the Middle East Gulf region to counter unspecified ’threats’ from Iran and sent US B-52 bombers to neighbouring Qatar.
The Strait of Hormuz is a natural chokepoint for tankers sailing to load at Saudi Arabian oil terminals in the Middle East Gulf region and as such offers a potential outlet for Iranian frustrations as US sanctions apply increased financial pressure on the regime.