[Photo provided by Hyundai Merchant Marine Co.]
South Korean shipping firm Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. rescued all 23 crew members of the Norwegian oil tanker Front Altair, one of the two vessels that caught fire on suspicious attacks in the Gulf of Oman.
The company’s cargo ship, Hyundai Dubai, said it received an emergency call for help from Front Altair around 6:40 a.m. Thursday after the Norwegian tanker experienced three rounds of explosions. The Korean ship rescued all 23 crew members in 74 minutes, and safely handed them over to the Iranian authorities.
The Front Altair is an 110,000-deadweight-tonnage tanker owned by Norway’s Frontline. It was reportedly on its way to ship petrochemical feedstock naphta to Japan.
Hyundai Merchant said its schedule was slightly delayed but that it is glad to have taken part in the rescue operation. Hyundai Dubai is a 30,000-ton vessel carrying mostly construction equipment to the Middle East. It had departed Malaysia’s Port Klang on June 1 and was scheduled to arrive in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Friday.
The other tanker that was attacked was the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, whose crew was also picked up safely. The cause of the explosions on both tankers remains unclear. But the United States has blamed Iran for the attacks, an allegation Tehran has flatly denied.
Tensions between Iran and the U.S. began rising a year ago after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 deal that aimed to restrain Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for eased economic sanctions. Washington ramped up its pressure further when in April it announced all countries that import Iranian oil would be subject to U.S. sanctions, in a move to choke off Iran’s primary export. Tehran, in response, threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping route near the site of the Thursday attacks.
The U.S. had also accused Iran or its proxies for the May 12 attack on four tankers off the UAE coast and the May 14 drone strikes on two Saudi oil-pumping stations. But these attacks are said to have been relatively minor compared to the latest tanker explosions.
By Chun Gyung-woon and Kim Hyo-jin
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