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Two tankers attacked in Gulf of Oman

Iran says the attacks on Japanese and Norwegian vessels were suspicious, calls for regional dialogue

June 13, 2019 10:34 pm | Updated 10:35 pm IST

Two oil tankers were attacked and left adrift on Thursday in the Gulf of Oman, driving up oil prices and stoking fears of a new confrontation between Iran and the U.S.

The White House said U.S. President Donald Trump had been briefed on the issue, after Washington accused Tehran of being behind a similar incident on May 12 when four tankers were attacked in the same area, a vital oil shipping route.

Russia was quick to urge caution, saying no one should rush to conclusions about Thursday’s incident or use it to put pressure on Tehran, which has denied the U.S. accusations.

There were no immediate statements apportioning blame after Thursday’s incidents, nor any claims of responsibility.

The crew of the Norwegian-owned Front Altair abandoned ship in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran after a blast that a source said might have been from a magnetic mine. The ship was ablaze, sending a huge plume of smoke into the air. The crew were picked up by a passing ship and handed to an Iranian rescue boat.

The second ship, a Japanese-owned tanker, was hit by a suspected torpedo, the firm that chartered the ship said. Its crew were also picked up safely.

The Bahrain-based U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet said it had assisted the two tankers after receiving distress calls.

Crude prices climbed 4% after the attacks near entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping artery for Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, and other Gulf energy producers.

Tensions have risen in the region since the U.S. pulled out of a deal between Iran and global powers that aimed to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Message from Trump

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was visiting Tehran when Thursday’s attacks occurred, carried a message for Iran from Trump, who has demanded that the Islamic Republic curb its military programmes and its influence in West Asia.

Mr. Abe, whose country was a big importer of Iranian oil until Washington ratcheted up sanctions, urged all sides not to let tensions in the area escalate.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described Thursday’s incidents as “suspicious” on Twitter, noting they occurred during Mr. Abe’s Tehran visit.

He called for regional dialogue.

Iran also said it would not respond to Mr. Trump’s overture, the substance of which was not made public.

Britain said it was “deeply concerned” about the attacks. Germany, which like Britain remains a signatory to the nuclear pact with Iran, said the “situation is dangerous” and all sides needed to avoid an escalation.

The Arab League said some parties were “trying to instigate fires in the region”, without naming a particular party.

Oman and the UAE, which have coastlines on the Gulf of Oman, did not immediately issue any public comment.

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