Oman remains at the forefront of maritime security in the region in league with navies from around the world. It is cooperating with agencies such as the EU Navfor for free flow of international trade in the region as well as around the Horn of Africa.
Speaking at the Indian Ocean Conference in the Maldives recently on the topic of ‘Securing the Indian Ocean Region: Traditional and Non-Traditional Challenges’, Sayyid Badr bin Hamad al Busaidi, Secretary General in Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that maritime security is built upon the foundations of law and operational security.
The Norwegian-owned Front Altair had been “attacked”, the Norwegian Maritime Authority said, leading to three explosions on board.
Wu I-fang, a spokesman for Taiwan’s state oil refiner CPC Corp, which chartered the Front Altair, said it was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha and was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo”, although this has not been confirmed. Other unverified reports suggested a mine attack.
The ship’s owner, Frontline, said the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel was on fire but denied reports on Iran media it had sunk.
The operator of the Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous, BSM Ship Management, said its crew abandoned ship and were rescued by a passing vessel.
The tanker was carrying methanol and was not in danger of sinking, a spokesman said.
It is currently located about 80 miles from Fujairah in the UAE and 16 miles from Iran. The cargo remains intact.
Who came to the rescue?
Iranian state media said Iran had rescued the crew members and they had been taken to the port of Jask.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the incident happened as Japanese PM Shinzo Abe was meeting Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, adding: “Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.”
The vessels were carrying what Japan trade officials said was “Japan-related cargo”.
The US 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it had sent the USS Bainbridge to assist.
Spokesman Josh Frey said in a statement: “US naval forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 06:12 local time (03:12 GMT) and a second one at 07:00.”
Why is this so sensitive?
The Gulf of Oman lies at one end of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and this incident will further increase tension in a vital shipping lane through which hundreds of millions of dollars of oil pass.
The US sent an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region at the start of May in response to what it said was an unspecified plan by Iran-backed forces to attack US forces in the area.
President Donald Trump has taken a hard line towards Iran, accusing it of being a destabilising force in the Middle East.
Iran rejected the claims and has accused the US of aggressive behaviour.
Those tensions rose markedly after the 12 May limpet mine attacks on four tankers off the UAE.
While it is unclear why Iran would carry out a relatively low-level attack on the multinational tankers, observers have speculated that it could have been to send a signal to forces ranged against it that it is capable of disrupting shipping there without triggering a war.
In an expansion of its Mission Based Deployments (MBD) in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Navy deployed its P-8I long-range maritime surveillance aircraft for anti-piracy sorties from Salalah in Oman to patrol the Gulf of Aden.
“Long-range maritime reconnaissance Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft P-8I undertakes anti-piracy patrol sorties from Salalah in the Gulf of Aden and other piracy prone areas in keeping with our MBD philosophy, to keep IOR safe and secure for all,” Navy spokesperson Captain D.K. Sharma said in a tweet on Saturday.
Speaking at a meeting with 120 representatives from Iranian trade and economic sectors held in Muscat, ambassador Nouri Shahroudi said the two countries will be staging a joint military drill in the coming days.
“Currently, our joint military committee is present in Oman, and we will hold a joint maneuver in the coming days,” he said.