The Middle East is on high alert today after two oil tankers were apparently attacked in the Gulf of Oman.
Two tankers are said to have been evacuated and Britain has urged ‘extreme caution’ amid claims that the vessels were hit by explosions.
One source described an oil tanker as being ‘on fire and adrift’, just weeks after four tankers were attacked in a mysterious act of sabotage off the UAE coast which Washington believes was the work of Iran.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet has said it received distress calls from two ships, which are reported to be the MT Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous.
Two oil tankers are said to have been targeted with explosions today just weeks after four vessels were attacked in the Middle East (pictured, one of the tankers damaged)
One shipping broker said there had been an explosion ‘suspected from an outside attack’ that may have involved a magnetic mine on the Kokuka.
‘All crew safely abandoned the vessel and was picked up by Vessel Coastal Ace. Kokuka Courageous is adrift without any crew on board,’ the source said.
Commander Joshua Frey, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said his command was ‘aware’ of a reported incident in the area.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out an alert this morning but did not elaborate on the incident.
The co-ordinates offered for the incident by the UK group put it some 25 miles off the Iranian coastline.
Iranian state television, citing the Lebanese news channel Al-Mayadeen, said two oil tankers had been targeted in the Gulf of Oman but offered no evidence to support the claim.
High tensions in the Middle East have sparked fears that any sudden movement could escalate into a war.
The possible attack today will send them spiralling further as Japan’s prime minister visits Iran in a bid to calm the situation.
Norwegian oil tanker Andrea Victory, one of the four boats damaged in the Gulf, is pictured with a large dent in its stern last month
On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Mr Abe warned that any ‘accidental conflict’ that could be sparked amid the heightened US-Iran tensions must be avoided.
Mr Abe is today meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday, the second and final day of his visit.
His message came just hours after Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, wounding 26 people.
The Saudi-led coalition which is fighting the Houthis in Yemen immediately pointed the blame at Iran, saying Tehran had equipped the rebel group with ‘advanced weapons’.
Saudi officials said the attack ‘proves this terrorist militia’s acquisition of new special weapons’ [and] the continuation of the Iranian regime’s support and practice of cross-border terrorism.’
A rebel TV network acknowledged the attack and said Houthi forces had fired a cruise missile.
The government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (left) previously warned Donald Trump (right) that its military is ‘fully ready for any eventuality’ in the Middle East amid spiralling tensions between the two nations
Last month Houthi forces claimed responsibility for sabotaging Saudi oil tankers in the Gulf of Yemen.
Saudi and UAE officials were tight-lipped about the extent of the damage but pictures showed at least one tanker with a hole in its hull.
The mysterious sabotage sent tensions spiralling in the Middle East as the U.S. blamed Iran and its allies for the attack – which divers said appeared to be the work of magnetic explosives.
Matters worsened after two pumping stations on a major Saudi oil pipeline were attacked by explosive-laden drones, halting the flow of crude along it.
The scene at Abha airport in Saudi Arabia in the early hours of Wednesday as emergency services respond to a rocket attack claimed by Houthi rebels
The attack on Wednesday is the latest flashpoint amid escalating Middle East tensions, which erupted again last month after tankers and an oil pipeline were targeted
The incidents sparked fears of a Gulf war breaking out ‘by accident’ with the U.S. and Iranian militaries on high alert amid high tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani has threatened to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal with the West, which is faltering already after Donald Trump pulled out of it last year.
The U.S. deployed B-52 bombers and an assault ship to bolster an aircraft carrier in the region.
Donald Trump’s White House has not ruled out military action against Iran, although both sides insist they do not want a war.
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said there ‘won’t be any war’ while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. ‘fundamentally does not seek any war’.