Forty-four sailors have been evacuated from two ships in the Gulf of Oman this morning after the vessels were hit in a suspected attack, according to reports.
The US Navy said one oil tanker was adrift and on fire, and it was assisting the tankers after receiving two distress calls.
Japan’s Trade Ministry says the two oil tankers carried “Japan-related” cargo.
A firm that operates MT Front Altair said an explosion caused a fire onboard. Another shipping firm identified the second vessel hit and said 21 sailors were evacuated, with one slightly injured in the incident.
International Tanker Management, which operates the MT Front Altair, said the incident is still being investigated and that it was unclear what caused the explosion, which occurred around 8am local time (5am UK time) on Thursday.
It was later reported that the Front Altair had sunk after it was damaged in the suspected attack, but a spokesman for the ships denied the reports, insisting it was still afloat.
A spokesman for the Kokuka Corageous said the crew had abandoned ship after the incident and the master and crew were quickly rescued from a lifeboat.
The spokesman added: “The Kokuka Courageous remains in the area and is not in any danger of sinking. The cargo of methanol is intact.”
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British Navy, said it was aware of an incident and warned of ‘extreme caution’.
It put out the initial alert, but did not say what the incident was.
Iranian media claimed there had been an explosion in the area targeting oil tankers, but did not provide any evidence.
The area is near the Strait of Hormuz, a major strategic waterway through which a fifth of global oil consumption passes from Middle East producers.
The incident came amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran and a month after what the US described as Iranian attacks on four oil tankers nearby, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Iran has denied being involved.
Those apparent attacks occurred off the Emirati port of Fujairah, also on the Gulf of Oman, approaching the critical Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.
The timing was especially sensitive as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran on a high-stakes diplomacy mission