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Oil Tankers Attacked In Gulf Of Oman, U.S. Navy Fleet Assisting


All right, we're going to turn now to some news from overseas. Two oil tankers were attacked this morning in the Gulf of Oman. The crews were reportedly evacuated. And now it appears that one of those tankers has sunk. Now, we should note that this story is developing. There is a lot we don't know. NPR's Jane Arraf is monitoring what we do know. Hi, Jane.


KING: So this has been happening the past couple of hours. I know you've been watching for those hours. What do we know so far about what happened?

ARRAF: So as you can imagine, there's a lot of back-and-forth about this.

KING: Yeah.

ARRAF: But the latest seems to be that - denials that a tanker has sunk, just that it's on fire. What we do know for sure, and I think the best information probably comes from the shipping companies that own these ships, is that two of them were hit. One of them was actually Japanese-owned, and the owners of that ship say it was attacked. The other one, the ship management says that the - that it was set adrift and disabled because of an explosion. But no one is actually indicating that they have serious evidence as to whether this really was an attack or what happened.

However, given the circumstances, it does look like a likely attack because this happened in a very contentious part of the region. It's where a third of the oil that's shipped by sea goes through. And the backdrop is the tension in Iran - it happened just 25 miles off the Iranian coast - and the Gulf, where all this oil came from. And the Gulf is launching a campaign against Iran with the help of the U.S.

KING: Right. I mean, the context here is that Iran and the U.S. have seen these heightened tensions recently in that region, and that's why everyone is watching this so carefully. Can you talk a little bit about the context here, about what's been going on in that region?

ARRAF: So a lot of this actually does deal with the U.S. And it goes back to a nuclear agreement that was signed in 2015 under the Obama administration. That agreement is unraveling, mostly because the Trump administration pulled out of it.

Now, the U.S. has accused Iran of previous attacks on oil tankers just a month ago. And as part of this, President Trump talked to the Japanese prime minister, and the Japanese prime minister is now in Tehran, trying to see if he can defuse tension. That isn't going quite so well.

KING: Do we know anything about casualties? It's been reported that one of these tankers has sunk. Does that mean lives were lost? Do we know?

ARRAF: It does not appear that lives were lost. The reports coming out are that all of the crew were evacuated to nearby ships using lifeboats and they're now in port in Iran. The U.S. 5th Fleet - the Navy also says that it sent assistance after receiving distress signals.

But there does appear to be a credible report that both of those ships are still - although disabled and have flammable cargo, they have not sunken. There have been no fatalities. One crew member was reported to have been injured after being evacuated.

KING: Jane, just briefly, what is Iran saying this morning?

ARRAF: Well, Iran is saying quite a lot. About this, it says it's suspicious. Of course, some of that suspicion is being cast on Iran. The supreme leader meeting with the Japanese prime minister is saying, regarding the nuclear deal, he doesn't see any reason to talk to Trump. All of this does not bode well for increasing tension between Iran, the U.S. and U.S. allies.

KING: NPR's Jane Arraf. Thanks so much, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.