The Latest: SKorea firm confirms rescue of oil tanker crew

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on Mideast developments amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region (all times local):

2:35 p.m.

A South Korean company confirms that all the 23 crew aboard one of the two oil tankers reportedly attacked near the Strait of Hormuz have been rescued by one of its cargo vessels sailing in the area.

The Seoul-based Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. on Thursday cited crew of its Hyundai Dubai cargo vessel as saying that there were three rounds of explosion sounds at the MT Front Altair before it sent an emergency distress call.

The company says it's the operator of the Hyundai Dubai vessel.

A company statement says the 30,000-ton-class Hyundai Dubai vessel sent a lifeboat to rescue MT Front Altair's 23 crew members before embarking them on the cargo vessel.

It says the Hyundai Dubai vessel later handed over the rescued crew members to an Iranian rescue boat.

It says the MT Front Altair, built in 2016, had reportedly been on its way to Japan with naphtha, a petrochemical product.

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—this item has been corrected to say the Hyundai Dubai vessel is a 30,000-ton-class;

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2:20 p.m.

The Iranian foreign minister has described the reported attack on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz as suspicious, since it occurred during a meeting between Japan's prime minister and Iran's supreme leader.

Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comment in a tweet on Thursday: "Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired this morning."

He didn't elaborate.

Zarif described the talks between Shinzo Abe and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as "extensive and friendly."

However, Khamenei said Iran would never negotiate with the U.S. and said that while his country didn't seek nuclear weapons, "America could not do anything" to stop Iran if it did.

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2:05 p.m.

The Japanese trade minister says 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 crewmembers 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.

No one has claimed responsibility or explained how the tankers were attacked.

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1:35 p.m.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneni says that while Tehran doesn't want an atomic bomb, "America could not do anything" to stop Iran if it did.

Khamenei made the comment on Thursday during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who came to Tehran as an interlocutor for President Donald Trump to ease tensions between Washington and Tehran.

His visit may not have succeeded, however. Khamenei earlier was quoted as saying Iran "will in no way repeat" negotiations with the U.S. amid tension over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

Khamenei's official website quoted him as telling Abe: "I don't regard Trump as deserving any exchange of messages and have no response for him and will give no response."

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1:20 p.m.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says that Tehran "will in no way repeat" negotiations with the U.S. amid tension over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

Khamenei made the comment on Thursday, during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who traveled to Tehran as an interlocutor for President Donald Trump to ease tensions between Washington and Tehran.

But the comments by Khamenei could indicate that Abe's visit may not have succeeded.

Khamenei's official website quoted him as telling Abe: "I don't regard Trump as deserving any exchange of messages and have no response for him and will give no response."

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12:50 p.m.

Japan's Trade Ministry says the two oil tankers reportedly attacked near the Strait of Hormuz carried "Japan-related" cargo.

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Thursday's comment 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.

No one has claimed responsibility or explained how the tankers were attacked. However, the U.S. previously blamed Iran for an attack last month on four oil tankers close to the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah.

Meanwhile, Iranian state television reported that 44 sailors from the two tankers have been transferred to an Iranian port in the southern province of Hormozgan.

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Noon

A firm that operates a crude oil vessel — one of two reportedly targeted in the Gulf of Oman — says an explosion caused a fire onboard. Another shipping firm identified the second vessel hit and said 21 sailors were evacuated, with one slightly injured in the incident.

International Tanker Management, which operates the MT Front Altair, told The Associated Press the incident is still being investigated and that it was unclear what caused the explosion, which occurred around 8 a.m. local time on Thursday.

The MT Front Altair had been loaded at a port in the Gulf with a petroleum product known as naptha, and was on its way to the Far East. Its crew of 23 is safe after being evacuated by the nearby Hyundai Dubai vessel.

Meanwhile, BSM Ship Management says its crew of 21 aboard the Kokuka Courageous carrying methanol has also been rescued in the Gulf of Oman by a nearby vessel after what it described as an "incident on board which resulted in damage to the ship's hull starboard side."

One crew man was slightly injured in the incident and is receiving first aid on board the Coastal Ace.

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11:25 a.m.

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet says it is assisting two oil tankers targeted in the "reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman."

The Bahrain-based force did not elaborate on who attacked what it described as two oil tankers. It also did not blame anyone for the attack.

The 5th Fleet said it had sent naval forces to the area to assist the two vessels. One has been identified as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker.

A private maritime intelligence firm says the Front Altair is adrift and on fire.

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11:15 a.m.

Iran's state TV is reporting that the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has met with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe amid tension between Iran and United States.

The meeting on Thursday morning, the second and final day of Abe's landmark visit, came amid reports of an oil tanker explosion in the Gulf of Oman.

Abe is the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit Tehran since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. On Wednesday, he warned that an "accidental conflict" amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. must be avoided at all costs.

Abe's trip is the highest-level effort yet to de-escalate the crisis as Tehran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year.

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11 a.m.

Benchmark Brent crude oil has risen over 4% in trading, to over $62 a barrel after oil tanker incident in Gulf of Oman.

That's according to early market figures on Thursday.

A U.K. maritime safety group warned a short while earlier of an unspecified incident in the Gulf of Oman and urged "extreme caution" amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran and a high-stakes visit by the Japanese prime minister to Iran.

Iranian media claimed — without offering any evidence — that there had been an explosion in the area targeting oil tankers. A private intelligence firm later said an oil tanker was adrift and on fire.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out the alert but did not elaborate on the incident. It said it was investigating.

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10 a.m.

A U.K. maritime safety group is warning that an unspecified incident has taken place in the Gulf of Oman and is urging "extreme caution" amid heightened U.S.-Iran tensions.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out the alert early on Thursday. It did not elaborate but said it was investigating.

The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The incident comes as Iranian media claimed — without offering any evidence — that there had been an explosion in the area targeting oil tankers.

Thursday's maritime alert comes after what the U.S. has described as Iranian attacks on four oil tankers nearby, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Iran has denied being involved.

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9:35 a.m.

Japan's top government spokesman says Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's high-stakes trip to Iran is intended to help de-escalate tensions in the Mideast — and not specifically mediate between Tehran and Washington.

The remarks by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to reporters were apparently meant to downplay and lower expectations amid uncertain prospects for Abe's mission.

Abe was to meet with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday, the second and final day of his visit.

On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Abe warned any "accidental conflict" that could be sparked amid the heightened U.S.-Iran tensions must be avoided.

Tensions have escalated in the Mideast and Iran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Washington pulled out of the agreement last year.

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