Japanese trade minister Hiroshige Seko said Thursday that two tankers carrying "Japan-related" cargo were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz.
Hiroshige Seko said on Thursday that all crew members were safely rescued. He said the government has set up a task force and that the government has informed the shipping industry to use precautions.
The Japan Shipowners' Association said one of the two ships attacked is a Panamanian-registered chemical tanker belonging to its Japanese member and was on its way to Singapore and Thailand, not to Japan.
It said all 21 Filipino crew members were uninjured.
The attacks came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a two-day trip to Iran with a mission to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington. The timing of the attack was especially sensitive while Abe's high-stakes diplomacy mission was underway.
On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Abe warned that any "accidental conflict" that could be sparked amid the heightened U.S.-Iran tensions must be avoided.
No one has claimed responsibility or explained how the tankers were attacked.
Benchmark Brent crude spiked at one point by as much 4% in trading following the attack, to over $62 a barrel, highlighting how crucial the area remains to global energy supplies. A third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strait, which is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.
The latest incident in the region comes 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.
Cmdr Joshua Frey, a 5th Fleet spokesman, said the U.S. Navy was assisting the two vessels that he described as being hit in a "reported attack." He did not say how the ships were attacked or who was suspected of being behind the assault.
Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, preliminarily identified one of the vessels involved as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker. The vessel was "on fire and adrift," Dryad added. It did not offer a cause for the incident or mention the second ship.
The firm that operates the Front Altair told The Associated Press that an explosion was the cause of the fire onboard. International Tanker Management declined to comment further saying they are still investigating what caused the explosion. Its crew of 23 is safe after being evacuated by the nearby Hyundai Dubai vessel, it said.
The second vessel was identified as the Kokuka Courageous, operated by Tokyo-based Kokuka Sangyo Co. It was carrying 25,000 tons of methanol. BSM Ship Management said it sustained hull damage and 21 sailors had been evacuated, with one suffering minor injuries. Iranian state television said 44 sailors from the two tankers have been transferred to an Iranian port in the southern province of Hormozgan.© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.