An American guided missile destroyer was sent to assist two burning tankers following what the U.S. Navy described as a “reported attack” in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday.
The USS Bainbridge was dispatched after the vessels suffered damage off the coast of Iran, according to 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Josh Frey.
It was unclear who was behind the incident, which occurred amid escalating tensions between the Trump administration and Iran.
American vessels were “rendering assistance” following the “reported attack,” the U.S. 5th Fleet said in a statement.
The owner of one of the tankers, the 560-foot tanker Kokuka Courageous, said that vessel had been struck by a projectile that pierced its hull and started a fire.
“We received word that our ship was attacked,” Yutaka Katada, president of Japan’s Kokuka Sangyo shipping company, told a news conference.
All 21 of its crew members were forced to abandon ship and were picked up by a nearby Dutch-flagged tugboat, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said in a statement.
One person suffered minor injuries, but the ship’s cargo of methanol was intact and the Kokuka Courageous was not in danger of sinking, according to vessel’s management firm.
Thursday’s incident came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a two-day trip to Iran on a mission to ease tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Noting that Abe’s visit coincided with attacks on “Japan-related tankers,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that “suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.”
The other ship, the 800-foot Norwegian-owned Front Altair, was damaged by an explosion and a fire, that vessel’s management company said.
The ship was carrying a cargo of naphtha, a flammable liquid hydrocarbon, International Tanker Management said in a statement.
All 23 crew members on the Front Altair were “safe and accounted for” after being picked up by another nearby tanker, according to Martin Baxendale, who was speaking on behalf of the firm.
“We’re trying to establish what’s happened on board,” Baxendadale added. “We would all do well to wait for the details before jumping to conclusions.”
Oil prices jumped as much as 4 percent following Thursday’s incident.
Coordinates given by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, as well as the ship tracking website Marine Traffic, said the damaged vessels were both within 30 miles of the Iranian coast.
Last month, four oil tankers from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Norway were damaged in the Gulf of Oman. All three countries said it was the work of a “state actor.” Saudi Arabia and the U.S. blamed Iran, an allegation it denied.
The top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East last week said that “the threat is imminent” of an attack by Iran or its proxies. The Trump administration had previously announced additional troops, an aircraft carrier strike group, Air Force bombers and Patriot missiles being sent to the region.
President Donald Trump has also withdrawn from 2015’s landmark Iran nuclear agreement, has imposed sanctions that squeezed the country’s economy and designated its powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.
Iran denies claims that it wants to attack U.S. forces, with its ambassador to the United Nations telling NBC News in May that the rhetoric coming from Washington was dangerous and mirrored the run-up to the Iraq War.
Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi called such statements “fake intelligence.”
Thursday’s incident came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a two-day trip to Iran on a mission to ease tensions between the country and the U.S.
Alexander Smith, Caroline Radnofsky and Linda Givetash reported from London, Kurt Chirbas from New York, Courtney Kube from Washington and Arata Yamamoto from Tokyo.
Courtney Kube, Arata Yamamoto and Associated Press contributed.