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Oil Tanker Evades Gunfire Along Most Important Crude Route

Armed men on a skiff fired shots at an oil tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important trade route for crude shipments.

Unidentified attackers fired twice with an assault rifle at the Aframax tanker Album at about 2:15 p.m. local time yesterday, said Abdul Shahid Khashan, acting security officer at the vessel’s owner Arab Marine Petroleum Transport Co. The attackers, who appeared to be fishermen, probably weren’t seeking to hijack the Album, which evaded the attack, he said.

A second tanker, the Stena Supreme, was approached by two skiffs in a separate incident yesterday, Lt. Commander David Benham, a spokesman for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Allied Maritime Command, said today. U.S. and European military authorities are investigating, he said.

The Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, is a transit channel for about 17 million barrels of crude daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which ranks the trade lane as the world’s most important chokepoint for oil. NATO coordinates naval vessels to protect commercial ships from Somali pirates operating in the adjoining Indian Ocean and nearby Gulf of Aden.

Saudi Port

“We have no reason to believe it’s related to Somali piracy,” Benham said by phone from Northwood, England. “Most pirate attacks take place in the main commercial shipping corridor in the Indian Ocean.”

The Album was en route to Saudi Arabia’s Ras Tanura port and not carrying crude at the time, Khashan of Arab Marine Petroleum Transport said by phone from Cairo. The attackers fired at the ship’s accommodation area and bridge, according to him and a notice on the London-based International Maritime Bureau’s website.

The NATO Shipping Centre, which shares piracy alerts with commercial ships, said the Album’s crew used fire hoses to deter the smaller craft, which turned away after coming to within five meters (16 feet) of the tanker. The Stena Supreme and another merchant ship reported being approached in or near Hormuz yesterday, according to separate reports on the center’s website.

The Stena Supreme, a Suezmax tanker, is owned by Concordia Maritime AB, according to the company’s website and shipping data compiled by Bloomberg. Concordia Maritime Chief Executive Officer Kim Ullman confirmed that skiffs approached the vessel yesterday.

Military Clothing

“Our ship has not been under attack,” he said by telephone. “The ship is fine.” The tanker was carrying a full load of crude at the time of the incident and is continuing its journey as planned, Ullman said.

Two green-colored skiffs carrying three to four armed people in military clothing came to within 150 meters of the Stena Supreme before turning toward the Iranian coast, according to Ullman and the NATO center.

Another vessel took evasive action outside the strait for about 25 minutes after two smaller craft approached it, according to the center’s website. One of the smaller ships was seen carrying a ladder, the center said.

The only other incident reported in the past year near Hormuz occurred on March 6 when three skiffs approached a merchant vessel in the Gulf of Oman, according to the NATO website.

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