Oil tankers attacked near Strait of Hormuz; oil prices soar

(IRIB News Agency via AP)
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An American guided missile destroyer was sent to assist two burning tankers following what the U.S. Navy described as a "reported attack" in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday.

The USS Bainbridge was dispatched after the vessels suffered damage off the coast of Iran, according to 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Josh Frey.

It was unclear who was behind the incident, which occurred amid escalating tensions between Washington and Iran.

U.S. vessels were "rendering assistance" following the "reported attack," the 5th Fleet said in a statement.

An explosion and a fire were confirmed aboard an 800-foot tanker called the Front Altair, the vessel's management company said. The Marshall Islands-flagged ship was carrying a cargo of naphtha, a flammable liquid hydrocarbon, International Tanker Management said in a statement.

All 23 crew members on the Front Altair were "safe and accounted for" after being picked up by another nearby tanker, according to Martin Baxendale, who was speaking on behalf of the firm.

"We're trying to establish what's happened on board," Baxendadale added. "We would all do well to wait for the details before jumping to conclusions."

The management company for the other tanker said a "full-scale emergency response" had been launched after its hull was damaged and all 21 crew members were forced to abandon ship.

Everyone aboard the Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous was rescued in a lifeboat from a nearby Dutch-flagged tug, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said in a statement.

One person suffered minor injuries, the ship's cargo of methanol was intact and it is not in danger of sinking, the firm added.

Oil prices jumped as much as 4 percent following Thursday's incident.

Coordinates given by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, as well as the ship tracking website Marine Traffic, said the damaged vessels were both within 30 miles of the Iranian coast.

Last month, four oil tankers from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Norway were damaged in the Gulf of Oman. All three countries said it was the work of a "state actor."

Saudi Arabia and the U.S. blamed Iran, an allegation it denied.

Last week, the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said that "the threat is imminent" of an attack by Iran or its proxies. The Trump administration had previously announced additional troops, an aircraft carrier strike group, Air Force bombers and Patriot missiles being sent to the region.

President Donald Trump has also withdrawn from 2015's landmark Iran nuclear agreement, has imposed sanctions that squeezed the country's economy and designated its powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.

Iran denies claims that it wants to attack U.S. forces, with its ambassador to the United Nations telling NBC News in May that the rhetoric coming from Washington was dangerous and mirrored the run-up to the Iraq War.

Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi called such statements "fake intelligence."

Thursday's incident came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a two-day trip to Iran with a mission to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington.