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Thursday, June 13, 2019

two tankers attacked in strait of Harmuz

The Strait of Hormuz  is a strait between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. It is the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean and is one of the world's most strategically important choke points. On the north coast is Iran, and on the south coast is the United Arab Emirates and Musandam, an exclave of Oman.   Considered as a choke point – some trouble does garner global attention.  Here, to reduce the risk of collision, ships moving through the Strait follow a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS): inbound ships use one lane, outbound ships another, each lane being two miles wide. The lanes are separated by a two-mile-wide "median".    Twenty percent of oil traded worldwide moves by tanker through the Strait of Hormuz.

File photo of tanker pic credit –
The Fifth Fleet is a numbered fleet of the United States Navy. It has been responsible for naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean since 1995 after a 48-year hiatus. Established in 1944, the Fifth Fleet conducted extensive operations against Japanese forces in the Central Pacific during World War II. World War II ended in 1945, and the Fifth Fleet was deactivated in 1947. It remained inactive until 1995, when it was reactivated and assumed its current responsibilities.   The ships of the Fifth Fleet also formed the basis of the Third Fleet, which was the designation of the "Big Blue Fleet".  Under Admiral Spruance, the Fifth Fleet was by June 1944 the largest combat fleet in the world, with 535 warships.

The prospects of a showdown between the U.S., its Arab allies on one hand, and Iran on the other, have spiked since the Trump administration stopped granting waivers to buyers of Iranian oil early in May. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. last year from a landmark 2015 agreement meant to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapon.  Today after the reported attack on 2 tankers at Gulf of Harmuz, US crude oil futures surged as much as 4% !.

United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations, which monitors security in the region, said that it was aware of an incident, and that Britain and its partners were investigating.An advisory from the agency indicated the incident had occurred near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital trade artery through which roughly 30% of the world's sea-borne crude oil passes.Singapore-based BSM Ship Management said in a statement that the vessel was about 70 nautical miles from Fujairah, a port in the United Arab Emirates, and about 14 nautical miles from the coast of Iran.

US crude futures had been trading near their lowest levels in five months. But they rebounded as traders reacted to reports of the attacks, gaining 2.3% to trade at $52.25 a barrel by 4:30 a.m. ET.The price for Brent crude, the global benchmark, surged 2.4% to $61.37 a barrel.  These followed  an incident in May in which four ships were targeted near Fujairah in what the United Arab Emirates described as a "sabotage attack." 

The U.S. Fifth Fleet said two oil tankers were damaged in an incident near the Strait of Hormuz that one of the ships’ operators described as a suspected attack. The development will inflame already-rising political tensions in the region weeks after four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged in what the U.S. said was an Iranian attack using naval mines. Tehran denied the charge.The Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said it received two separate distress signals at 6:12 a.m. and about 7:00 a.m. local time. “U.S. Navy ships are in the area and are rendering assistance,” Commander Josh Frey, a spokesman, said. He couldn’t confirm reports that one of the attacks was caused by a torpedo. Iran said it has rescued 44 sailors.

The manager of one tanker, Front Altair, said it was sailing in international waters when it was damaged by an explosion, whose cause “is as yet unknown.”The second tanker, the Kokuka Courageous, said the vessel “has been damaged as a result of the suspected attack.” It was sailing from Saudi Arabia to Singapore with a cargo of methanol.“The hull has been breached above the water line on the starboard side,” Bernhard Schulte GmbH & Co KG said in a statement on its website. It said the cargo was intact and the ship wasn’t in danger of sinking.

Iran has repeatedly said it has no knowledge and did not instruct any surrogate forces to attack Gulf shipping, or Saudi oil installations. Iranian state TV reported that 44 crew had been evacuated from the tankers to an Iranian port.Gulf tensions have been close to boiling point for weeks as the US puts “maximum economic pressure” on Tehran in an attempt to force it to reopen talks about the 2015 nuclear deal, which the US pulled out of last year.Iran has repeatedly said it has no knowledge and did not instruct any surrogate forces to attack Gulf shipping, or Saudi oil installations.An inquiry by the UAE into the attacks on 12 May found that the sophisticated mines were used by state-like actors, but did not identify Iran or any other state as the culprit. The US national security adviser, John Bolton, said Iran was almost certainly involved. An alternative explanation is that the attacks were undertaken by Houthi rebels fighting the Saudi-led efforts to oust them from Yemen.

The latest incident came as the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, held talks with the Iranian leadership in Tehran in a bid to see if a basis for discussions between the US and Iran can be found. Japan’s trade ministry says the two oil tankers reportedly attacked on Thursday carried “Japan-related” cargo.The Japanese stressed they were not bringing specific messages from the US president, Donald Trump, and said nothing that they had heard in the first day of talks suggested a breakthrough was imminent.Abe, seen as close to Trump but also a supporter of the original 2015 deal, met both the Iranian foreign minister JavedZarif and the President Hassan Rouhani. On Thursday Abe also met Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In a sign of how the Yemen civil war and the wider US-Iranian tensions are becoming intertwined, Riyadh accused Tehran of ordering a Yemeni rebel missile strike that wounded 26 people at a Saudi airport on Wednesday.Iran and the Yemeni rebels both follow branches of the Shia branch of Islam but Tehran has always denied providing more than moral support to the rebels.The rebels say that missile and drone strikes against Saudi Arabia are one of few ways that they can retaliate after more than for years of bombing by the Saudi-led coalition, which has exacted a heavy civilian death toll in Yemen.

All is not well ~ tension at Hormuz and oil prices went up !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
13th June 2019.

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