Warning after reports of Gulf tanker blasts

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48619771

One of the ships damaged in the 12 May attack off the UAEImage copyright
AFP

Image caption

One of the ships damaged in the 12 May attack off the UAE

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet says it is rendering assistance after receiving separate distress calls from two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Regional media reported explosions and fires on both vessels, reportedly the Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous.

Crew from both of the vessels have been safely evacuated, Reuters reports.

The incident comes a month after four tankers were attacked off the United Arab Emirates, which it blamed on an unnamed “state actor”.

The US said Iran was behind the attacks, which involved naval mines, an accusation Tehran denied. The attacks increased long-standing tensions between Iran and the US and its allies in the Gulf.

Oil prices rose as much as 3.9% from a near five-month low following Thursday’s incident, Bloomberg reports.

Josh Frey, of the 5th Fleet, said in a statement: “US naval forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 06:12 local time (08:12 GMT) and a second one at 07:00.

“US Navy ships are in the area and are rendering assistance.”

The UK Royal Navy-linked UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) safety group earlier issued a warning, urging “extreme caution” in the area.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionWhy does the Strait of Hormuz matter?

Reports of the explosions are yet to be officially confirmed by any oil tanker firms or regional governments.

The Kokuka Courageous is Panama-flagged, while Front Altair is Marshall Islands-flagged.

The US under President Donald Trump has taken a hard line towards Iran, accusing it of being a destabilising force in the Middle East.

The US sent an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region at the start of May in response to what it said was an unspecified plan by Iran-backed forces to attack US forces in the area.

Iran has rejected the claims and has accused the US of aggressive behaviour.