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Oil prices spike after apparent tanker attack in Gulf of Oman

Navy assisting after apparent tanker attack
  • Reports of two oil tankers being attacked in the strategic Gulf of Oman sent world oil prices sharply higher Thursday morning.
  • A third of all oil traded by sea passes through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf near the Gulf of Oman.
  • Experts do not expect the jump in oil prices to lead to higher gas costs in the U.S.

Global oil prices surged on Thursday following suspected attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, leaving one with a damaged hull and the other on fire and adrift.

U.S. crude rose 4% to $53.22 per barrel after closing lower the previous day on concerns over rising stockpiles and a spiraling trade dispute between the U.S. and China. Prices of Brent crude oil, the international standard, jumped 4% to over $62 a barrel on the news. A third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf near the Gulf of Oman.

"The knee-jerk reaction is more a response to the risks associated with higher tensions in the region and prospect of more attacks, than immediate impact on oil supplies," Craig Erlam of OANDA said in a market commentary.

No spike in gas costs

Experts don't expect the jump in oil prices to boost U.S. gas costs. Prices at the pump "will not immediately skyrocket because of the attacks on two oil tankers,"  tweeted Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at research firm Gas Buddy.

Oil tank operators DHT Holdings and Heidmar have temporarily halted new jobs in the Gulf following the incidents, according to Reuters.

BSM Ship Management said one of the vessels, Kokuka Courageous, was carrying methanol and sustained "damage to the ship's hull starboard side." Maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global preliminarily identified the other vessel as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker. It said the vessel was "on fire and adrift."

Commander Joshua Frey, a 5th Fleet spokesman, said Thursday that the U.S. Navy was assisting two vessels involved in a "reported attack" near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. He did not name any suspects or say how the vessels were attacked. 

Japan's trade ministry said the two vessels had "Japan-related cargo." The reported attacks came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a high-stakes visit in Tehran aimed at easing tensions between Iran and the U.S.

"Patently false" rescue claims

Iran claimed it dispatched search teams that rescued the 44 sailors who were on the two vessels. But a U.S. Defense Department official told CBS news senior national security correspondent David Martin it's "likely" Iran is the source of the attacks -- and said Iran's rescue claims were "patently false." He said the USS Bainbridge picked up 21 of them.

The latest incidents come after the U.S. alleged that Iran used mines to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah last month. Iran has denied being involved, but it comes as Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen also have launched missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.

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