A huge oil tanker has reportedly been struck by a torpedo in the Gulf of Oman leading a UK maritime safety group to urge ‘extreme’ caution.
According to local media, 44 crew members from two tankers involved in the incident near the Strait of Hormuz, have been taken to an Iranian port.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, run by the British Navy, said the UK and its partners were investigating the incident near the Iranian coast.
An alert was issued on Thursday but the group did not elaborate on the incident, which saw oil prices surge.
One of attacked vessels, which is believed to be a Norwegian-owned tanker carrying crude oil, was struck by a torpedo, according to shipping industry newspaper TradeWinds.
However, no one has officially claimed responsibility.
The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet says it is ‘aware of the reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman’.
According to Bloomberg, the U.S. said the attack was launched by Iran using naval mines, however Tehran denied the allegations.
Spokesman for the US navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, Cmdr Joshua Frey, said his command was ‘aware’ of a reported incident in the area and they are ‘working on getting details’.
The UK maritime safety group urged ‘extreme caution’ following the incident, amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran and a high-stakes visit by the Japanese prime minister to Iran.
Benchmark Brent crude oil rose more than four per cent in trading to over $62 (around £48.92) a barrel after reports of the incident, according to early market figures.
Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, preliminarily identified the vessel involved as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker, adding that the vessel was ‘on fire and adrift’.
It is believed the incident happened some 45 kilometres (25 miles) off the Iranian coastline, according to the UK group.
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.
But 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, Mr Abe warned any ‘accidental conflict’ that could be sparked amid the heightened US-Iran tensions must be avoided.
His message came just hours after Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, wounding 26 people.
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