This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet says it is rendering assistance after receiving separate distress calls from two oil tankers reportedly under attack in the Gulf of Oman.
The June 13 incidents come a month after attacks on four tankers off the United Arab Emirates increased tensions between Tehran and Washington and U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf.
“We are aware of the reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman,” the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said in a statement, adding: “U.S. naval forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time and a second one at 7 a.m.”
“U.S. Navy ships are in the area and are rendering assistance,” the statement added.
International Tanker Management, the firm that operates one of vessels — the Front Altair — said an explosion caused a fire on board.
Another shipping firm, BSM Ship Management, identified the second ship as the Kokuka Courageous.
Crew from both vessels have been safely evacuated, their operators said.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, a maritime safety group run by the British Navy, earlier said the incident took place some 45 kilometers off the Iranian coastline and urged “extreme caution” in the area.
Meanwhile, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that the Iranian Navy had rescued 44 crew members from two oil tankers after the vessels caught fire after an “accident” in the Sea of Oman.
The sailors were transferred to the port of Bandar-e Jask, IRNA quoted an unidentified source as saying.
The U.A.E. blamed last month’s attacks just outside the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping route for global oil and gas supplies, on an unnamed “state actor,” while the United States alleged that Iran used mines to attack the tankers — an accusation Tehran denied.
Tehran has been locked in a bitter standoff with Washington since the United States one year ago pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran.
Since then, Washington has reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran, stepped up its rhetoric, and beefed up its military presence in the Middle East, raising fears of a possible armed conflict.
The reported attack in the Gulf of Oman came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on the second and final day of his landmark visit.
Abe, the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit Iran in more than 40 years, on June 12 warned that an “accidental conflict” amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States should be avoided at all costs.