Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the US Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. Japan's Trade Ministry said the two vessels had "Japan-related cargo" as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a high-stakes visit in Tehran that sought to ease tensions between Iran and the United States, the AP reports. Benchmark Brent crude spiked at one point by as much 4% in trading following the reported attack, to over $62 a barrel, highlighting how crucial the area remains to global energy supplies.
Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a 5th Fleet spokesman, said the US Navy was assisting the two vessels that he described as being hit in a "reported attack." He did not say how the ships were attacked or who was suspected of being behind the assault. Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, identified one of the vessels involved as the MT Front Altair crude oil tanker. The vessel was "on fire and adrift," Dryad said. The firm that operates the Front Altair said an explosion was the cause of the fire onboard. International Tanker Management said they are still investigating what caused the explosion. The crew of 23 is safe after being evacuated by the nearby Hyundai Dubai vessel, it said. The second vessel was identified as the Kokuka Courageous. BSM Ship Management said it sustained hull damage and 21 sailors had been evacuated, with one suffering minor injuries. (Last month, the UAE said four ships off its coast were sabotaged.)