Crude prices surge after tanker incidents in Gulf

Oil prices had dropped to five-month lows before the latest incident involving tankers in the Middle East.

    Reports of an incident involving oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman have sent oil prices up sharply, adding to tensions in the region following last month's tanker attacks [File: Jon Gambrell/AP]
    Reports of an incident involving oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman have sent oil prices up sharply, adding to tensions in the region following last month's tanker attacks [File: Jon Gambrell/AP]

    Oil prices have surged after a suspected attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman near the Iranian coast.

    A unit of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy said it was aware of the incident on Thursday and the United States Fifth Fleet said it was assisting after receiving distress calls.

    Meanwhile, Iran's navy rescued 44 crew members from the two tankers the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

    Thursday's incident included one tanker on fire in the Gulf of Oman and followed sabotage attacks on May 12 on vessels near the Fujairah emirate, one of the world's largest bunkering hubs and located just outside the Strait of Hormuz. 

    Brent crude futures were up $2, or 3.3 percent, at $61.97 a barrel by 06:46 GMT. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up $1.41, or 2.7 percent, at $52.55 a barrel.

    Crude prices had fallen to five-month lows before the latest reports.

    The UK Maritime Trade Operations, which is a part of the UK Royal Navy, said on Thursday that it was aware of an incident in the Gulf of Oman, near the Iranian coast.

    "UK and its partners are currently investigating," it said. 

    US National Security Advisor John Bolton had said on May 29 that naval mines, "almost certainly from Iran", were used to attack the tankers off the United Arab Emirates coast last month, and warned Tehran against conducting new operations. 

    Escalating tensions

    Tensions in the Middle East have escalated since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 multinational nuclear pact with Iran and reimposed sanctions, notably targeting Tehran's key oil exports.

    Marwan Kabalan, head of policy analysis at the Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies, described the latest incident as "serious".

    "This incident is perhaps more serious than the one that had taken place last month when four oil tankers had been attacked. Reports are saying maybe a torpedo has been used in attacking one of these tankers," Kabalan told Al Jazeera.

    "This contributes to the increased tension between Iran and the United States. It's very difficult to say who is behind this incident. But we can for sure say some parties are trying to increase the escalation between the United States and Iran."

    Iran has said it will not be cowed by what it has called psychological warfare.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies