Blasts aboard two oil tankers are the result of suspected attacks launched early Thursday morning in the Gulf of Oman, near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes and vital passageway for crude oil shipments through the Middle East. The crews on board the Kokuka Courageous and the Front Altair were believed to be safely evacuated from the vessels, which were hit navigating the narrow waterway between Iran and the United Arab Emirates. The owner of the Front Altair said the ship was set ablaze and was still burning hours after the attack.
The U.S. Navy said it received two distress calls from two vessels at 6:12 a.m. local (Bahrain) time and 7 a.m. State media in Iran said the Iranian Navy responded and rescued the 44 sailors, bringing them to shore. The Marshall Islands–flagged Front Altair was carrying a 75,000 tons of naphtha, a petrochemical feedstock, the Guardian reports, when Taiwan’s state oil refiner CPC, which chartered the tanker, said it suspected it was hit by a torpedo.* The Kokuka Courageous was traveling under a Panama flag en route from Saudi Arabia to Singapore when it too was damaged in what it reported as a suspected attack. Iran’s IRIB news agency tweeted an unverified image of what it says is the Front Altair on fire.
The attacks could bring tensions in the region to a head as they come a month after four vessels were attacked nearby in a move that the U.S. believes was orchestrated by the Iranian regime. Tehran has denied any involvement in the string of explosions in May, but “an inquiry by the UAE into the attacks on May 12 found that the sophisticated mines were used by state-like actors, but did not identify Iran or any other state as the culprit,” the Guardian reports. “An alternative explanation [to an Iranian-led attack] is that the attacks were undertaken by Houthi rebels fighting the Saudi-led efforts to oust them from Yemen.”
Correction, June 13, 2019: An earlier version of this post misspelled the Marshall Islands.