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Two oil tankers damaged in Gulf of Oman; attack feared

Singapore — Two oil tankers were damaged in the Gulf of Oman early Thursday morning, with one vessel catching fire amid concerns over a possible attack, just weeks following alleged ship sabotage in the region, multiple shipping sources in Singapore and Shanghai said Thursday.

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While the cause of the fire on one of the tankers could not be immediately ascertained, brokers, chartering sources and a shipping agent confirmed that at least two tankers, including the Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous, have been damaged and their crew evacuated. The Front Altair was scheduled to carry a naphtha cargo from the Persian Gulf to Japan, shipping sources said. Brent futures climbed about 2% from yesterday's close.

The US fifth fleet in the region confirmed the incident and offered assistance to the distressed vessels, it said in a statement on its website.

"We are aware of the reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman," the statement on its website said. "U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local (Bahrain) time and a second one at 7:00 a.m. U.S. Navy ships are in the area and are rendering assistance."

The owner of the Front Altair, Frontline, could not be immediately reached for comment. The tanker was built in 2016 and is Marshall Island flagged, and can carry a 90,000 metric ton cargo.

BSM Ship Management said the Kokuka Courageous was carrying methanol and it had been damaged in the incident, 70 nautical miles from Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman and about 14 nautical miles from the coast of Iran but is not in the danger of sinking.

The company did not divulge the owner of the ship but maritime sources told S&P Global Platts that the tanker, Kokuka Courageous, is owned by "Japanese interests."

The Kokuka Courageous' hull has been damaged and the 21 crew members have abandoned the ship which is not in danger of sinking, BSM said in a statement.

The master and crew abandoned the ship and were quickly rescued from a lifeboat by another ship nearby, the Coastal Ace, it said and added that one person on the ship was injured.

The cargo is intact, it added.

It said that the Coastal Ace is now awaiting instructions from the UK Marine Trade Operations which is responding to the incident.

BSM has launched a full-scale emergency response following the incident, it said.

A source told state-run Iranian news agency Irna that 44 crews of the hit tankers were rescued by Iranian vessels and transferred to a local port.

The incident comes close on the heels of four tankers being attacked near the Gulf of Oman a month ago.

Four tankers -- two of them Saudi owned, one UAE flagged and the other Norwegian flagged -- were attacked in waters near the Middle Eastern hub of Fujairah on May 12. Later that month, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said naval mines "almost certainly from Iran" were used in the attacks. A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry called that a "ludicrous claim", according to the Fars news agency.

The governments of the UAE, Norway and Saudi Arabia suggested in a joint statement issued earlier this month an unnamed "state actor" was probably responsible for the attack, which was highly likely implemented by trained divers from fast boats placing limpet mines on the tankers.

A source at the Port of Fujairah, on the Gulf of Oman, said Thursday the port received a distress call about a ship being on fire. Fujairah port operations are normal, the source said.

So far no formal statement has been issued from the port authorities in the region.

-- Vickey Du,

-- Pradeep Rajan,

-- Sameer Mohindru,

-- Dania Saadi,

-- Edited by Claudia Carpenter,