Inferno in the Gulf: Explosions rock two oil tankers off of Iran after ‘torpedo’ attack forces both vessels to be evacuated – weeks after Tehran was blamed for attacking Saudi ships

  • Two tankers, the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, were hit by explosions in the Gulf of Oman this morning
  • The Altair’s Norwegian owner denied Iranian claims that the vessel has sunk
  • Reports said the ships had been attacked with torpedoes and magnetic mines 
  • Britain has urged ‘extreme caution’ amid spiralling tensions in the Middle East 
  • Iran said it was ‘suspicious’ about the attack during its meeting with Japan’s PM
  • Japanese leader Shinzo Abe had warned of an ‘accidental’ war breaking out 
  • Did you see what happened or do you have pictures? Get in touch – email tim.stickings@mailonline.co.uk  

Dramatic pictures have revealed the fireball which erupted on an oil tanker after it was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman today.

The MT Front Altair was one of two ships hit in a pair of blasts which have left the Middle East on high alert. 

The tanker suffered three explosions and caught fire after a suspected torpedo attack, although its Norwegian owner has denied Iranian claims that the vessel has sunk.  

The Altair and the other ship, the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, were evacuated after sending distress signals – picked up by the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet – with 44 sailors rescued.  

Britain has urged ‘extreme caution’ amid high tensions in the Middle East, weeks after Saudi tankers were attacked in a mysterious act of sabotage off the UAE coast which Washington believes was the work of Iran

Tehran has said it is ‘suspicious’ about the timing of the explosions, which came as Japanese leader Shinzo Abe met Iran’s Supreme Leader today in an effort to defuse the crisis.  

Tokyo also revealed that the two tankers had been carrying ‘Japan-related cargo’.  

Mr Abe had warned yesterday that the tense Middle East standoff, which has seen furious exchanges between America and Iran, could lead to an ‘accidental’ war.  

Inferno: A fire rages on board the oil tanker MT Front Altair after it was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman today, in what has been described as a tornado attack

Inferno: A fire rages on board the oil tanker MT Front Altair after it was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman today, in what has been described as a tornado attack 

Smoke pours from the Norwegian-owned oil tanker on Thursday after it was hit by an explosion near the UAE and Iran in an apparent attack which has put the Middle East on high alert

Smoke pours from the Norwegian-owned oil tanker on Thursday after it was hit by an explosion near the UAE and Iran in an apparent attack which has put the Middle East on high alert 

A map showing the approximate location of the two ships which were seemingly attacked in the Gulf of Oman today in the latest Middle East flashpoint

A map showing the approximate location of the two ships which were seemingly attacked in the Gulf of Oman today in the latest Middle East flashpoint 

What has happened to the two tankers in the Gulf of Oman? 

Panama-listed tanker Kokuka Courageous was damaged in a ‘suspected attack’ that breached the hull above the water line. 

The ship was attacked twice in three hours before all the crew were evacuated, the firm said.  

All of its crew are reported safe with one minor injury. 

There was an engine room fire on the tanker, which was carrying methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore.  

A second ship, the Front Altair, was ‘suspected of being hit by a torpedo’. 

Its Norwegian owner said it was still afloat, denying Iranian claims it had sunk.  

The Aframax-class tanker was loaded with 75,000 tonnes of naphtha. 

It was travelling from Ruwais, United Arab Emirates, to Taiwan, according to trade sources. 

All 44 sailors from the two ships have been rescued by Iranian search and rescue teams, Tehran’s Islamic Republic News Agency. 

The Bahrain-based U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet said it was assisting after receiving distress calls. 

Oil prices surged by four per cent on the news.  

The Taiwanese oil refiner which chartered the Marshall Islands-flagged MT Front Altair said the ship was ‘suspected of being hit by a torpedo’. 

The Marshall Islands are an ‘associated state’ of the U.S.  

Reports said said the Front Altair, travelling from Qatar to Taiwan, had suffered three explosions and caught fire after a ‘surface attack’. 

Iranian news agency IRNA claimed that the ship had sunk, but its Norwegian owner Frontline insisted it was still afloat. 

Its crew of 23 were picked up by nearby vessel Hyundai Dubai. 

The Altair had been loaded at a port in the Gulf with a petroleum product known as naphtha, and was on its way to the Far East. 

The Altair’s cargo was worth more than $30million, according to estimates from trade sources.  

Meanwhile, a shipping broker said the Panama-flagged Kokuka had suffered an explosion after an ‘outside attack’ which may have involved a magnetic mine. 

The company operating the ship, which was heading to Singapore, said the attack had caused ‘damage to the ship’s hull starboard side.’

The Kokuka’s 21 crew were picked up by the nearby Vessel Coastal Ace, leaving the tanker adrift and empty after an engine room fire.   

One of the crew members was slightly injured in the incident and received first aid on board the Coastal Ace, while the Kokuka’s methanol cargo is said to be intact. 

Iran said its search and rescue teams had picked up the 44 sailors from the two ships and taken them to the port of Jask.  

Norway has advised its ships to ‘stay well clear of Iranian waters until further notice’.  

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 fleet received one distress call at 6.12am local time and another one at 7am and the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge offered assistance.

This picture released by Iran’s state broadcaster showed one of the oil tankers on fire in the Gulf of Oman today after a suspected attack 

Another image released by Iran showed smoke pouring from one of the ships, which were said to have been targeted by torpedoes and magnetic mines

Another image released by Iran showed smoke pouring from one of the ships, which were said to have been targeted by torpedoes and magnetic mines 

This diagram shows the movement of the two ships, travelling from left to right with their courses charted in green, before reaching the points (in red) where they were hit by explosions

This diagram shows the movement of the two ships, travelling from left to right with their courses charted in green, before reaching the points (in red) where they were hit by explosions

This picture purports to show the stricken Front Altair on fire after it was attacked in the Gulf of Oman today. The photo was said to be taken from a nearby vessel

This picture purports to show the stricken Front Altair on fire after it was attacked in the Gulf of Oman today. The photo was said to be taken from a nearby vessel 

What are the two ships affected? 

FRONT ALTAIR

Flies under the flag of the Marshall Islands, an ‘associated state’ of the US.

Owned by Norwegian firm Frontline and operated by Dubai-based firm International Tanker Management. 

Was travelling from the UAE to Taiwan carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha, a petrochemical product.

Chartered for this journey by Taiwanese refiner CPC Corp.

All 23 crew members are safe after being rescued by the Hyundai Dubai.

Frontline say the ship is still afloat, rejecting Iran’s claims it had sunk. 

KOKUKA COURAGEOUS

Flies under the flag of Panama.

Owned by Japanese firm and Kokuka Sangyo Ltd and operated by BSM Ship Management.

Was travelling from Saudi Arabia to Singapore carrying 25,000 tonnes of methanol. 

All 21 sailors were rescued, with one suffering minor injuries.   

BSM say the ship is in no danger of sinking.  

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out the first alert this morning. 

The UK Government later said: ‘We are deeply concerned by reports of explosions and fires on vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. We are in contact with local authorities and partners in the region.’  

The co-ordinates offered for the incident by the UK group put it some 25 miles off the Iranian coastline. 

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said that ‘suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning’ while Iran was meeting Japan. 

Japanese trade minister Hiroshige Seko said there had been ‘Japan-related’ cargo on board the vessels. 

Benchmark Brent crude oil spiked four per cent in trading following the reported attack to more than 62 dollars a barrel, according to early market figures. 

High tensions in the Middle East, and belligerent rhetoric from Washington and Tehran,x have sparked fears that any sudden movement could escalate into a war. 

Last month the U.S. deployed B-52 bombers and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to shore up its military presence in the region. 

The apparent attack today will send them spiralling further as Japan’s prime minister visits Iran in a bid to calm the situation. 

One shipping broker said the Kokuka Courageous (file photo), one of the ships apparently attacked in the Middle East today, may have been targeted with a magnetic mine

The Taiwanese oil refiner which chartered the Front Altair (file photo) said the ship was ‘suspected of being hit by a torpedo’

The oil tanker explosions came as Japanese leader Shinzo Abe (left) met Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, in Tehran today

The oil tanker explosions came as Japanese leader Shinzo Abe (left) met Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, in Tehran today 

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 in last month's acts of sabotage)

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 in last month’s acts of sabotage)

Norwegian oil tanker Andrea Victory

Norwegian oil tanker Andrea Victory

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, Shinzo Abe warned that any ‘accidental conflict’ that could be sparked amid the heightened US-Iran tensions must be avoided. 

But his talks with Iran faced a setback today as the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tehran would ‘in no way repeat’ negotiations with the U.S. 

The Ayatollah said today that U.S. ‘couldn’t do anything’ to stop his country developing nuclear weapons. 

He also took aim at Donald Trump and said he did not believe the U.S. President’s offer of ‘honest negotiations’.   

Mr Abe is the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit Tehran since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. 

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.  

Last month the U.S. deployed B-52 bombers and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (pictured in the Arabian Sea on June 1) to shore up its military presence in the region

Last month the U.S. deployed B-52 bombers and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (pictured in the Arabian Sea on June 1) to shore up its military presence in the region

Japan's leader Shinzo Abe (left) speaks at a press conference with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani (right) in Tehran yesterday. Mr Abe warned of an 'accidental conflict' in the region

Japan’s leader Shinzo Abe (left) speaks at a press conference with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani (right) in Tehran yesterday. Mr Abe warned of an ‘accidental conflict’ in the region

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Donald Trump at the White House today

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

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.  

Mr Abe’s warning yesterday also 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 U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain (where three of its ships are moored in this picture), said it had received distress signals from the two oil tankers today

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain (where three of its ships are moored in this picture), said it had received distress signals from the two oil tankers today 

The scene at Abha airport in Saudi Arabia in the early hours of Wednesday after the missile attack

Emergency services at the scene after Yemeni rebels attacked the airport in Abha, a Saudi mountain resort city

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 attacks on Wednesday and Thursday mark the latest flashpoint amid escalating Middle East tensions, which erupted again last month after tankers and an oil pipeline were targeted (pictured, a diagram showing the location of May's attacks)

The attacks on Wednesday and Thursday mark the latest flashpoint amid escalating Middle East tensions, which erupted again last month after tankers and an oil pipeline were targeted (pictured, a diagram showing the location of May’s attacks) 

The latest crisis erupted after Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani threatened to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal with the West, which is faltering already after Donald Trump pulled out of it last year.  

Tehran has demanded that the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia help Iran to dodge U.S. sanctions, which were restored last year when Donald Trump quit the pact. 

Speaking last month Rouhani said Iran would ramp up nuclear enrichment if such help did not materialise.

But the White House condemned what it called Iran’s attempted ‘nuclear blackmail of Europe’ and warned: ‘Expect more sanctions soon. Very soon.’  

The threat also sparked a backlash from Israel, where Benjamin Netanyahu warned he would ‘not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons’. 

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’.    

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