Two ships carrying Japanese cargoes were attacked in the Persian Gulf early this morning as Japan’s President Abe Shinzo was in Iran for discussions.
The “Front Altair,” fully loaded with 75,000 tonnes of highly flammable naphtha, was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo,” around noon Taiwan time, Wu I-Fang, CEO of CPC’s petrochemical division, told Reuters.
A separate source attributed the blast to “a magnetic mine.”
Following the explosion, the entire crew of 23 were evacuated and eventually transferred to an Iranian boat for rescue. The ship remained ablaze.
A second ship, the “Kokuka Courageous,” was “attacked” twice with “some sort of shell,” an official from the Japanese owner of the ship told CNN. It was carrying methanol.
Michio Yuube, the co-manager of ship owner Kokuka Sangyo advises:
“The first shot hit the tanker above sea level and the vessel caught fire briefly before the blaze was extinguished.”
All 21 crew members abandoned this ship as well, and were rescued.
News of the incidents came in as Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was conferring with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Not only is the Kokuka Courageous owned by a Japanese company, both tankers were carrying “Japan-related cargo,” according to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif admits that:
“suspicious doesn’t begin to describe” the incident involving two tankers in the Gulf of Oman this morning.”
The White House is closely monitoring the situation. U.S. officials haven’t dismissed the possibility that a torpedo was involved.
One defense official told CNN:
“The US at this hour has not ruled out [that] the ships may have hit a mine in the water, or were attacked by a projectile. They are trying to determine the cause. A US P8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft is conducting surveillance in the area.”
The USS Bainbridge, a guided missile destroyer, responded after intercepting “two separate distress calls,” and transferred aboard 21 sailors off the Kokuka Courageous tanker, who were originally picked up by a tug boat.
Reuters notes that:
“Iranian search and rescue teams have picked up 44 sailors from two damaged tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.”
The incident occurred in the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Gulf of Oman with the Persian Gulf. Like the Panama canal, it also divides the nation of Oman from Iran. At the bottleneck, the strait is barely 21 miles wide yet deep enough to handle the worlds largest tankers.
The US Energy Information Administration calls it the “world’s most important choke point,” because it handles 80% of Asia’s crude supply.
Oil prices are already skyrocketing. “US crude oil futures rose as much as 4% following the reports,” Reuters noted.
Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, quickly released a warning not to jump to any hasty conclusions:
“I would take the opportunity to warn against hasty conclusions, against attempts to lay the blame at the door of those we don’t like.”
“Lately we have been seeing a strengthening campaign of political, psychological and military pressure on Iran. We wouldn’t want the events that have just happened, which are tragic and shook the world oil market, to be used speculatively to further aggravate the situation in an anti-Iranian sense.”
Just last month, four ships were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, prompting U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton to comment that:
“[naval mines] ‘almost certainly from Iran’ were used to attack the tankers off the United Arab Emirates last month.” He warned Tehran against “conducting new operations.”
President Donald Trump “has been briefed on the attack on ships in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. Government is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders relates.