Two oil tankers, the Panamanian flagged 'Kokuka Courageous' and the Marshall Islands-flagged 'Front Altair', were hit in two suspected attacks in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday morning, leaving the one vessel ablaze and both adrift.

The incident comes amid an ongoing tension in the Middle East, only a month after a similar incident in which four tankers in the region were struck.

It appears that each vessel was attacked by a sub-surface explosive device placed by either a remotely-operated vessel or diver. Both types of delivery method are more likely to happen when vessels are near stationary or in a very restricted waterway,

...noted INTERTANKO and OCIMF, who said are in contact with the UAE and Saudi Flag Administrations, the Combined Maritime Forces and other industry associations.

Risk mitigation measures

INTERTANKO and OCIMF recommend that companies review BMP5 and consider sending the following guidance to vessels:

  • Undertake a new ship- and voyage-specific threat risk assessment before entering any region where there has been an incident or the threat has changed.
  • After the risk assessment, review the Ship’s Security Plan.
  • Review section 2 of BMP5, which outlines threats.
  • Maintain a full and vigilant bridge watch for vessels at anchor.
  • Implement deck patrols.
  • Implement a waterborne security patrol.
  • Maintain a strict communications watch and establish communication with all vessels coming close.
  • Ensure strict boarding controls are in place.
  • Only lower accommodation gangways or ladders when necessary.
  • Rig outboard lighting where possible, particularly over the stern and rig/use searchlights if available.
  • Report any suspicious activity immediately to both the port and UKMTO +442392222060.
  • Monitor relevant VHF and other communication channels.
  • Check all fire-fighting equipment is available for immediate use. Make sure the emergency fire pump is available if any maintenance is being undertaken.
  • Keep the Automatic Information System (AIS) on. There is no need to complete the field stating the last or next port of call.

Additional measures Operators may wish to take if alerted to suspicious activity include:

  • Rotate the propeller continuously or at short, irregular intervals.
  • Operate bow and stern thrusters at zero (0) thrust.
  • Turn the rudder frequently.
  • Switch the echo sounder to transmit counter/combat swimmer/diver threat.

The attacks were the second in a month near the Strait of Hormuz, a major strategic waterway for world oil supplies. Shortly after the incident, oil prices surged by 4%.

Shipping industry condemned the attacks, with the IMO Secretary General, the International Chamber of Shipping and INTERTANKO noting that this is an intolerable situation threatening the lives of seafarers, the environment and the world economy.

In a statement after the attacks, the UK Club noted that, although the facts surrounding the incident are not fully known at this stage, it is likely that the incident would be classed as an act of terrorism, excluded from standard P&I cover under Rule 5 E “Exclusion of War Risks”.

In such cases, members should expect their P&I liabilities to fall within the scope of their War Risk policies.

The type and extent of primary War P&I cover provided by war risks insurers can vary depending on the member’s policy, the Club explained.

In some cases, War P&I cover is effectively a “write back” of the member’s P&I cover which has been excluded by reason of the operation of the war risk peril causing the loss or giving rise to actual or potential liabilities; cover provided by the war risks insurer is then on the basis of P&I rules which Members are familiar with.  In other cases, war risks policies have their own wordings for terms of P&I war risks cover.