THE US said tonight that Iran was behind the "torpedo attack" on an American-linked oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman.
Both the Front Altair and the Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous - which was reportedly bombed - burst into flames and were forced to evacuate in the troubled region this morning.
A huge fire rages on board the Front Altair after it was reportedly hit by a torpedo in the Gulf of Oman
The tanker was one of two ships attacked today sparking an evacuation of all crew members
An aerial picture showing the huge blaze raging on the oil tanker after the attack this morningCredit: AP:Associated Press
What we know so far:
- Two oil tankers were seriously damaged in the suspected torpedo attack
- It's "highly likely Iran caused the attacks," one US official has claimed
- Almost 50 sailors had to be rescued from the stricken tankers in the Gulf
- Oil prices surged by 3.5 per cent after today's suspected terror attack
- Iran's foreign minister has branded the explosions as "suspicious"
- The US Navy's 5th Fleet is now investigating the suspected torpedo attack
And now, in comments bound to ignite tensions between the two countries, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the "blatant" attacks.
He said they were part of a "campaign" of "escalating tension" by Iran and a threat to international peace and security.
"It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today," Pompeo told reporters.
"This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.
“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security,” he said.
Pompeo said the United States will defend its forces and interests in the region but gave no specifics about any plans and he took no questions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blames Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in blast at the Islamic state
One US source dismissed the Islamic Republic’s earlier claim that they had rescued all the crew members from both ships branding the report “patently false.”
He said the USS Bainbridge had rescued 21 of the 44 stricken sailors involved in the incident near the Strait of Hormuz.
Earlier, Tehran's news agency IRNA claimed Iranian search and rescue teams had taken all the crew members to the port of Jask.
The Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous is believed to have been targeted by a magnetic mine causing a series of massive explosions on board.
Norwegian shipping firm Frontline, which owns the Altair, has denied Iranian reports that the tanker had sunk.
The ship was built in 2016 and is flagged to the Marshall Islands - a US associated state in the Pacific Ocean.
Chartered by Taiwan's state oil refiner CPC Corp, the huge vessel set sail from the UAE port of Ruwais on Tuesday and was due to arrive in Kaohsiung on June 30.
Speaking to Reuters, the CEO of CPC's petrochemical division Wu I-Fang said the tanker was "suspected of being hit by a torpedo."
He said it was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha, a petrochemical feedstock, which trade sources estimate to be worth more than $30 million.
Gulf of Oman attack- 23 oil tanker crew members filmed safe in Jask after suspected attack
Paolo d'Amico, chairman of the tanker association, Intertanko, said concern was rising for other crews braving the powder keg shipping lanes.
He said: "If the waters are becoming unsafe, the oil supply to the entire Western world could be at risk.”
It comes as tensions in the Persian Gulf betweenthe United States and Iranare threatening to reach boiling point.
A Saudi-led coalition has described today's attack as a "major escalation".
In recent weeks, Washington has sent a number of battle ships to the region in response to what it says are Iranian threats against American interests and its allies in the region.
The Kokuka Courageous - which is owned by Japanese firm Kokuka Sangyohad - set sail from Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia on June 10 and was due to reach Singapore by June 22.
Oil prices rose by 3.5 per cent following news of the explosions, according to reports.
Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif branded the explosions as "suspicious" calling them "reported attacks on Japan-related oil tankers."
He said the incident had happened as Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei was meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a close American ally.
The US Navy's 5th Fleet said it is aware of a "reported attack" in the area and is investigating.
A statement said: "US naval forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6.12 am local time and a second one at 7.00 am.
"US Navy ships are in the area and are rendering assistance."
The incident reportedly happened in the Gulf of Oman this morning
Speaking about the attacks, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said: “The President has been briefed on the attack on ships in the Gulf of Oman.
“The US Government is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation.”
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British Navy, urged "extreme caution" and said it was investigating the incident.
“We are deeply concerned by reports of explosions and fires on vessels in the Gulf of Oman. We are in contact with local authorities and partners in the region.”
Authorities do not believe that any British nationals were on the two ships.
A UK Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are deeply concerned by reports of explosions and fires on vessels in the Gulf of Oman. We are in contact with local authorities and partners in the region.”
This comes after the US claimed Iran used explosives to blow huge holes in four ships - including two Saudi oil tankers - anchored in the Persian Gulf last month.
Theships reportedly had ruptures measuring up to ten foot across in their hulls as a result of the May 12 sabotage attacks.
Recent US and Iran tensions
- May 5: USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force is deployed in Middle East in response to 'a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings' by Iran.
- May 8: Iran vows to enrich its uranium stockpile if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its nuclear deal. The US responds by imposing sanctions on Iran's metals industry.
- May 10: The US says it will move a Patriot missile battery into the Middle East to counter threats from Iran.
- May 24: President Trump says the US will bolster its military presence in the Middle East with an additional 1,500 troops.
- May 12: The UAE says four commercial ships off its eastern coast "were subjected to sabotage operations," just hours after Iranian and Lebanese media outlets air false reports of explosions at a nearby Emirati port.
Huge plumes of thick black smoke billow from the massive tanker in the Gulf of Oman following a suspected torpedo attackCredit: AP:Associated Press
One of the tankers on fire in the Gulf of Oman following the suspected torpedo attackCredit: AFP or licensors
All the crew members of Front Altair have been rescued, a senior company official said
An unverified picture which claims to show one of the tankers in the Gulf of Oman on fire
The Front Altair, from the US-linked Marshall Islands, was one of the ships reportedly attacked today near IranCredit: Shipspotting.com
Two tankers: all you need to know
- Front Altairwas built in 2016 and is flagged to the Marshall Islands
- It is owned by Norwegian company Frontline and is operated by Dubai-based International Tanker Management
- The ship was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha, a petrochemical product, worth $30m when it was attacked
- It was carrying 23 crew members who were all rescued
- The vessel can carry up to 62,849 tonnes of cargo
- It weighs a staggering 109,894 tonnes
- Kokuka Courageouswas built in 2010 and is flagged to Panama
- It is owned by Japanese firm Kokuka Sangyo and is operated by BSM Ship Management
- The ship was carrying 25,000 tonnes of methanol when it was attacked
- 21 sailors on board were rescued. One suffered minor injuries
They were targeted near the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates - with one of the tankers due to be loaded with Saudi crude oil bound for the US.
A Washington-based official told the Associated Press that an American military team's initial assessment indicated Iran or its allies used explosives to blow holes in the ships.
Iran strongly denies involvement in the attacks.
A huge US naval presence has built up in the Gulf over recent weeks amida fevered standoff between Washington and Tehran.
US intelligence revealed Iran was on the verge of carrying out offensive action to disrupt and attack American and partner interests in the region.
The general-secretary of the Gulf Cooperation Council described the sabotage as a "serious escalation" in an overnight statement.
Iran's foreign ministry spokesman called the incidents near the coast of Fujairah on May 12 "worrisome and dreadful" and asked for an investigation into the matter.
US and Iran - a troubled history
- Before the 1979 Iranian revolution, Iran was one of America's biggest allies in the Middle East and was led by the US-backed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.
- However, since the seismic revolt, Iran has been led by murderous Islamic fundamentalists and tensions with Washington have remained ever since.
- On November 4, 1979, the Iranian regime took 52 US diplomats hostage in response to President Carter’s administration allowing Iran’s deposed former leader into America.
- The hostage crisis lasted for 444 days and also included a failed rescue mission which cost the lives of eight US soldiers.
- In April 1980, the US ended diplomatic relations with Iran – a break which lasted for more than 30 years.
- In April 1983, Washington blamed the Iranian-funded terror group Hezbollah for carrying out a bombing attack on the American embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.
- The assault, carried out amid a brutal civil war in Lebanon, killed 17 Americans.
- In November of that year, two truck bombs in Beruit killed 241 US peace keepers. The US again blamed Hezbollah for the incident.
- The Clinton White House, in 1995, placed a total embargo on Iran meaning US companies could not trade with the country.
- And in 2002, George W Bush included the Islamic Republic in his famous “Axis of evil” speech along with North Korea and Iraq.
The latest explosions in the region come after four ships were attacked with explosives last month in the Persian GulfCredit: Reuters
The United States deployed an additional warship to the GulfCredit: AFP
What is the Iran nuclear deal?
The deal is an agreement between the Islamic Republic and a group of world powers aimed at scrapping the Middle Eastern country's nuclear weapons programme.
It saw Iran agree to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium by 98 per cent.
According to the deal, Iran would receive relief from the US, the European Union and the United Nations Security Council on all nuclear-related economic sanctions.
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The agreement was reached on July 14, 2015, and was signed by world powers in Vienna, Austria.
However, on May 8, 2018, President Trump announced the US would withdraw from the agreement - which he has repeatedly called "insane" and ridiculous".
America's withdrawal from the deal mean crippling economic sanctions will once again be placed on Iran - further heightening tensions between the two countries.