SWITZERLAND, JUNE 13 – Two oil tankers were severely damaged by attacks in the Gulf of Oman that sparked a 4 per cent surge in crude prices and put the energy industry at the centre of rising Middle East tensions.
The US Navy said it was assisting the tankers after receiving distress calls over the Thursday incidents, which forced the evacuation of their crews and heightened fears over the risk of conflict erupting in the region.
The attacks overshadowed a visit to Iran by Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, who is seeking to ease US-Iran tensions. Mr Abe was meeting the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei when reports of the attacks emerged. One of the vessels struck was Japanese-owned.
The incidents, which occurred in waters between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, pushed the price of Brent oil up by as much as 4.5 per cent. Prices slipped back later in the day but remained 2.7 per cent higher, the largest one-day gain since April.
Iranian television showed footage of a fire blazing in a large hole on the other vessel, as a tower of black smoke billowed upwards from its scorched hull. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks and it was not clear how they were carried out.
Tensions were already running high between Tehran and Washington, which has been heaping intense pressure on Iran since US President Donald Trump last year withdrew the US from a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Oil and transport infrastructure in the Gulf has been struck in a string of assaults since early May, when the US warned of unspecified “escalatory” action by Tehran and sent more military assets to the region. Iranian officials have called the attacks suspicious.
But on Thursday’s tanker strikes Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said “suspicious doesn’t begin to describe” the fact they coincided with Mr Abe’s meeting with Mr Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate decision maker.Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, said: “Since PM Abe announced his travel to Tehran to consolidate Japanese-Iranian relations and help ease regional tensions, efforts were made, unfortunately, to undermine the goal of the visit.”
After meeting the Japanese leader, Mr Khamenei ruled out any talks with the US, dashing hopes that Tokyo could attempt to mediate between Tehran and Washington. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has no trust in America,” Mr Khamenei said.The attacks in the Gulf of Oman occurred close to the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes and a choke point for crude exports out of the oil-rich region.