TWO oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz have reportedly been attacked, leaving one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels.
The US Navy has rushed to assist the ships 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 United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the Royal Navy, put out an alert about this incident this morning and said it was investigating.
A third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strait, which is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.
The latest incident comes after the US alleged that Iran used mines to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah last month.
Iran has denied being involved, but it comes as Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen have also launched missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.
Commander Joshua Frey, a Fifth Fleet spokesman, said theUS 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, preliminarily identified one of the vessels involved as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker.
The vessel was ‘on fire and adrift’, Dryad added.
The firm that operates the Front Altair told the Associated Press that an explosion was the cause of the fire onboard.
International Tanker Management declined to comment further, saying it is still investigating what caused the explosion.
Its 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.