Oil Prices Surge After Oil Tanker 'Attacks'
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Iran for an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
Two oil tankers have been attacked and left adrift in the Gulf of Oman, driving up oil prices and stoking fears of a new confrontation between Iran and the US.
The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed on Thursday and that the US government would continue to assess the situation.
But Pompeo claimed at a news conference in Washington later on Thursday that the attacks on the ships are part of a "campaign" of "escalating tension" by Iran and a threat to international peace and security.
He said the United States will defend its forces and interests in the region, but gave no specifics about any plans and he took no questions.
Pompeo offered no concrete evidence to back up the assertion.
"It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today," Pompeo told reporters.
"This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication," Pompeo said.
Washington has accused Tehran of being behind a similar attack on May 12 on four tankers in the same area, a vital shipping route through which much of the world's oil passes.
Tensions between Iran and the US, along with its allies including Saudi Arabia, have risen since Washington pulled out of a deal last year between Iran and global powers that aimed to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Iran has repeatedly warned it would block the Strait of Hormuz, near where the attacks happened, if it cannot sell its oil due to US sanctions.
No one has claimed Thursday's attacks and no one has specifically blamed them on any party.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the incidents as "suspicious" on Twitter and called for regional dialogue. Tehran has denied responsibility for the May 12 attacks.
The Saudi-led military coalition, which is battling the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, described Thursday's events as a "major escalation".
Russia, one of Iran's main allies, was quick to urge caution, saying no one should rush to conclusions about the incident or use it to put pressure on Tehran.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a meeting of the UN Security Council on cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States: "Facts must be established and responsibilities clarified."
He warned that the world cannot afford "a major confrontation in the Gulf region".
Council diplomats said the US told them it planned to raise the issue of "safety and freedom of navigation" in the Gulf during a closed-door meeting of the Security Council later on Thursday.
"It's unacceptable for any party to attack commercial shipping and today's attacks on ships in the Gulf of Oman raise very serious concerns," acting US Ambassador to the UN Jonathan Cohen told the UN meeting.
Crude prices climbed as much as 4.0 per cent after the attacks near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping artery for Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, and other Gulf energy producers.
"We need to remember that some 30 per cent of the world's (seaborne) crude oil passes through the straits. If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk," said Paolo d’Amico, chairman of INTERTANKO tanker association.
The crew of the Norwegian-owned Front Altair abandoned ship in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran after a blast that a source said might have been from a magnetic mine. The ship was ablaze, sending a huge plume of smoke into the air.
The crew were picked up by a passing ship and handed to an Iranian rescue boat.
The second ship, a Japanese-owned tanker, was hit by a suspected torpedo, the firm that chartered the ship said. Its crew were also picked up safely.
However, a person with knowledge of the matter said the attacks did not use torpedoes.
The Bahrain-based US Navy Fifth Fleet said it had assisted the two tankers after receiving distress calls.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Tehran when Thursday's attacks occurred, urged all sides not to let tensions in the area escalate.
Britain said it was "deeply concerned" about the attacks. Germany, which like Britain remains a signatory to the nuclear pact with Iran, said the "situation is dangerous" and all sides needed to avoid an escalation.