WASHINGTON — Two oil tankers carrying Japan-related cargo were damaged in attacks this morning off the coast of Iran, near the Strait of Hormuz, the Pentagon said Thursday.
“U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local (Bahrain) time and a second one at 7:00 a.m,” the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, said in a statement. “U.S. Navy ships are in the area and are rendering assistance.”
The Thursday morning attacks came one month after four tankers in the same region were targeted and damaged in attacks. Those attacks were blamed on Iranian proxies, although Tehran has denied having any involvement.
Similar suspicions swirled around Thursday’s attacks.
Iran claimed its rescue squads helped 44 sailors from the two vessels, according to news reports. The Pentagon scoffed at that assertion, saying the USS Bainbridge rescued 21 crew members and that other nearby vessels also assisted the crews.
Tracking data shows one of the ships picked up petroleum products from the United Arab Emirates. The other ship acquired cargo in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, according to news reports.
Japan’s Trade Ministry told reporters in Tokyo that the two tankers were carrying Japanese-related cargo, but did not detail the manifests, according to news reports.
The reported attack came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was ending a two-day trip to Iran in an effort to broker a cool-down of tensions between Washington and Tehran. He also was to discuss Iran’s continued compliance with a nuclear treaty from which Washington withdrew.
On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Abe had warned that an “accidental conflict” could ignite because of the high tensions, a scenario he said must be avoided, according to news reports.
The Strait of Hormuz separates the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and is a crucial shipping lane for oil tankers.