By Jon Gambrell, The Associated Press on June 13, 2019.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A U.K. maritime safety group warned Thursday of an unspecified incident in the Gulf of Oman and urged “extreme caution” amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran and a high-stakes visit by the Japanese prime minister to Iran.
Iranian media claimed – without offering any evidence – that there had been an explosion in the area targeting oil tankers.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out the alert but did not elaborate on the incident. It said it was investigating.
Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said his command was “aware” of a reported incident in the area. He declined to elaborate.
“We are working on getting details,” Frey told The Associated Press.
Benchmark Brent crude, apparently reacting to the incident, rose in early trading Thursday to over $62, a 3.4% increase.
Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, preliminarily identified the vessel involved as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker. The vessel was “on fire and adrift,” Dryad added. It did not offer a cause for the incident.
Iranian state television’s website, citing the pro-Iran Lebanese satellite news channel Al-Mayadeen, said two oil tankers had been targeted in the Gulf of Oman. It offered no evidence to support the claim.
Emirati officials declined to immediately comment. The co-ordinates offered for the incident by the U.K. group put it some 45 kilometres (25 miles) off the Iranian coastline.
The maritime alert comes after what the United States has described as Iranian attacks on four oil tankers nearby, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Iran has denied being involved.
Those apparent attacks occurred off the Emirati port of Fujairah, also on the Gulf of Oman, approaching the critical Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.
The timing was especially sensitive as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran on a high-stakes diplomacy mission. On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Abe warned that any “accidental conflict” that could be sparked amid the heightened U.S.-Iran tensions must be avoided.
His message came just hours after Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, wounding 26 people.
Abe was to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday, the second and final day of his visit.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, a top government spokesman, told reporters that Abe’s trip was intended to help de-escalate tensions in the Mideast – but not specifically mediate between Tehran and Washington.
His remarks were apparently meant to downplay and lower expectations amid uncertain prospects for Abe’s mission.
Tensions have escalated in the Mideast as Iran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year.
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.
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