The curious case of the tankers

The curious case of the tankers by Nat South for The Saker

I have taken the opportunity to look at the recent incident involving two outbound tankers in the Gulf of Oman. I have got some questions or two, (or three) about certain parts of the incident, from a civilian mariner’s perspective mostly.

There are various conflating aspects to the event, and questions need to be asked, yet journalists do not seemingly wish to ask the awkward but necessary questions these days.

Background

The two tankers identified as the ‘Front Altair’, a Marshall Islands flagged vessel and the ‘Kokuka Courageous’, a Panama-flagged vessel.

Front Altair Kokuka Courageous
Managed by Frontline, (Norway – Bermuda) Managed by Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (Singapore/ Japan)
23 crew(11 Russian, 11 Philippine, 1 Georgian) 21 crew (Philippine)
Aframax – 86% loaded Handy – fully loaded
75,000 MT of Naphtha 25,000 MT Methanol
Ruwais, UAE Qatar & KSA
Taiwan Singapore
Hyundai Dubai rescued crew Coastal Ace rescued crew
Transferred by SAR boat to Iranian port Transferred to USS Bainbridge
Radio message: “torpedo attack” Japanese CEO: “flying objects”
Hit on starboard amidships – “in fire’ Hit on starboard Twice over 3-hour period – engine room fire
Stopped at 02:47GMT Stopped at 06:20GMT

Both tankers were outbound (south east) of the Strait of Hormuz. Both suffered from explosion on the starboard side, (the side facing international waters). Past AIS tracks of both vessels shown here. The U.S. Navy reported receiving distress messages at 06:12am and 07:00am

Contradictions and questions

The US military released a video  claiming to show an Iranian naval boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of the ‘Kokuka Courageous’ in an apparent attempt to recover evidence of its participation. I will comment more about the video later on, but we have already the ludicrous situation where the information provided by the US contradicts the statement made by the Japanese ship management company, who did not believe the ship was damaged by a mine, but by flying objects. The president of Kokuka Sangyo Marine, (shipowners), Yutaka Katada, said “there is no possibility of mine attack as the attack is well above the waterline.”

https://twitter.com/nhk_news/status/1139114208463872001

Questions, questions: then there is the question of timing of an attack of a Japanese owned tanker at a time when the Japanese PM was in Iran for talks.

To add to the confusion, there were reports that the Dutch crew of the ‘Coastal Ace’ who first noted a suspicious object on the hull of the tanker. This then morphed into reports that the USS Bainbridge seeing a suspect device, as shown in the timeline provided by the US Navy.

Regarding the other tanker, ‘Front Altair’, the ‘Hyundai Dubai’ was the first ship on scene who responded to the distress message and rescued the crew. Subsequently, it seems the master of this vessel gave a report on VHF: video & audio (unconfirmed).

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