The news reports about the attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13 caused a stir on the global oil market – in just a couple of hours crude prices surged by approximately 3%.
According to Arab media outlets, the Panama-listed Kokuka Courageous tanker and the Front Altair tanker, owned by the Norwegian shipping company Frontline, were attacked in the Iranian waters in the Gulf of Oman. The ships’ operators reported that Front Altair was carrying petroleum products, while Kokuka Courageous was carrying methanol. Both ships were shipping the cargos intended for Japan, Associated Press reported referring to an official with Japan’s Trade Ministry. Incidentally, at the time of the attack Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was on a working visit in Iran where he was acting as a mediator trying to deescalate political tensions between Iran and the U.S.
As it became known from later updates, both vessels stayed steady on the course and the fires onboard had been extinguished. On June 14, one of the tankers resumed sailing towards its destination. According to the main version, the two ships were rocked by explosions of magnetic mines that were planted in their bodies. However, nothing is reported about where and when the mines were planted.
Naturally, the search for guilty parties began and Washington immediately accused Tehran of attacking the ships.
“It is the assessment of the U.S. government that Iran is responsible for today’s attacks in the Gulf of Oman. These attacks are a threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter.
When talking to reporters, Pompeo specified that these accusations were based on intelligence data and a certain analysis of the weapons that had been used during the attack. According to Pompeo’s version, in that area, only Tehran has the facilities for organizing such attacks and no terrorist group was able to carry out such subversive activities. Tehran officially denied the accusations calling Washington’s statement “a provocation.” Russia, Turkey and the EU warned against jumping to conclusions.
This is not the first case when tankers are attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, a strategically important passage, which daily receives dozens of oil shipping vessels.
On May 12, four tankers were attacked in the UAE territorial waters, east of the emirate of Fujairah. The UAE Ambassador to the UN Security Council said that a "state actor" was most likely behind the attacks on four tankers off its coast. He added that the attacks bore the hallmarks of a "sophisticated and co-ordinated operation.” However, it is still unknown who was behind the attacks on tankers from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Norway.
The U.S. blamed the attacks on Iran but Teheran denied its involvement and urged an international investigation of the incident. In short, the puzzle with the May attacks is yet to be solved.
It looks like we won receive any sound conclusions about the June incident in the near future either. In all fairness, besides the wish of unknown initiators to raise certain geopolitical dividends from these attacks such incidents also commercially advantageous for all oil exporters –crude prices surge significantly amid reports about attacks on tankers. In particular, American shale oil producers are among those who could welcome the surge in oil prices.
The global oil market once again proved its geopolitical vulnerability showing that it can be easily shaken with only a couple of mines. Fairly speaking, the “military” factor in the oil price always prevails over the supply-demand factor only for a short time. By now, oil traders and stock market speculators have already won back their positions after the recent tanker case and are anticipating the OPEC+ session in early July, when the participants of the oil production cut deal are expected to set oil production quotas for the second half of the year.