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Two oil tankers damaged in Gulf of Oman after suspected attacks

Highlights

Japan says tankers attacked

US Navy responding

Ships carrying methanol, naphtha

London — Two oil tankers were damaged Thursday in the Gulf of Oman, with one vessel catching fire, just weeks after shipping was attacked in the region.

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Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry said two tankers loaded with "Japan-related cargoes" were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, triggering an emergency ministerial meeting. The Strait of Hormuz is a critical chokepoint through which 30% of the world's seaborne oil transits. Japan relies heavily on crude imports from the Middle East -- most of which pass through the strait.

Brokers, chartering sources and a shipping agent said at least two tankers, including the Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous, have been damaged and their crew evacuated.

The incident follows last month's attack on four tankers, also in the Gulf of Oman which sits just outside the Strait of Hormuz. 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.

BRENT RALLIES

Brent futures climbed almost 4% immediately after the second attacks on Thursday. At 1213 GMT, front-month ICE Brent was up $2.54 at $62.51/b.

The Front Altair was scheduled to carry a naphtha cargo from the Persian Gulf to Japan, shipping sources said. Taiwan's CPC Corporation said the 75,000-mt naphtha feedstock cargo was loaded at the UAE's Ruwais port on June 11 and that it bought it from state-run ADNOC. The cargo was on a CFR basis, according to CPC. ADNOC couldn't be reached for immediate comment.

The reported attacks came to light during a visit by Japanese Minister Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Iran, who had met Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei earlier in the day, after meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Wednesday. Japan cut off its purchases of Iranian crude in April to comply with US sanctions targeting Tehran's oil sector, but has been keen to regain those lost supplies even as US officials have vowed to bring Iran's exports down to zero.

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

Fujairah port operations are normal, the source said.

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," it 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-mt 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.

'JAPANESE INTERESTS'

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 Royal Navy's UK Maritime Trade Operations which is responding to the incident.

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

A source told the official Iranian news agency IRNA that 44 crew from the hit tankers were rescued by Iranian vessels and transferred to a local port.

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.

Infographic: Attacks on Middle East oil tankers and infrastructure

--Staff, newsdesk@spglobal.com

--Edited by Robert Perkins, newsdesk@spglobal.com