LONDON (Reuters) - A Singapore-flagged oil products tanker fired at by Iranian craft on Thursday had previously collided with an Iranian oil drilling platform in March and efforts have since been made to resolve the issue, the owner said on Friday.
The Alpine Eternity was attacked by a number of small craft in international waters off the United Arab Emirates in the latest escalation in the region.
The owner, South Maritime Pte Ltd, and manager, Transpetrol TM, said in a joint statement that the tanker collided with an uncharted object on March 21 in the Middle East Gulf, which was later identified as an Iranian jacket platform. No one was injured and no pollution was spilled.
"Since the March 21 incident, there has been a continuous dialogue between the owners/drilling contractor of the offshore structure, and representatives of the vessel and their liability insurers," they said in the statement.
"Owners and managers can see no reason why the Iranian authorities should try to seize the vessel, given the advanced state of negotiations and ongoing dialogue with the Iranian counterparts."
The platform is owned by Petro Pars Iran Company.
Habib Jadidi, head of the consortium for phase 13 of the South Pars project, called on Iran’s neighbouring countries to seize the Singapore-flagged vessel and hand it over to Iran.
"The Alpine Eternity was trying to leave the region before the issue could be settled," Jadidi was quoted as saying by Iranian Oil Ministry's Shana news agency.
"It has seriously damaged an Iranian oil rig ... after drifting 25-30 miles away from its normal course."
He said the damage was around $300 million, adding they had informed the owners and managers of the ship. "But so far there has been no measures taken by the company to pay it."
The Alpine Eternity was anchored off Dubai on Friday after managing to reach United Arab Emirates waters on Thursday with its crew safe. The ship's master had ignored a call to stop by the Iranian boats.
The statement by the owner and manager of the tanker said in ordinary circumstances insurers would be able to post security on behalf of the owner, but Western sanctions imposed on Iran, including banking measures, had made this difficult.
"This has been discussed in full with the Iranian counterparts," the statement added. "The owners, managers and the liability insurers are committed to resolving these issues once all necessary clearances have been obtained from the appropriate authorities in the UK and USA."
Last week, Iran released a Marshall Islands-flagged container ship, Maersk Tigris, and its crew, which were seized in the Strait of Hormuz over a years-old debt. This prompted the United States to send vessels to temporarily accompany U.S.-flagged ships through the strait. Iranian patrol boats had shadowed a separate container ship earlier last month.
Millions of barrels of oil are transported daily through the Bab el-Mandeb and Strait of Hormuz to Europe, the United States and Asia, waterways which pass along the coasts of Yemen and Iran respectively.
"In a month when there have been increased incidents involving ships transiting this area, we are deeply concerned to see another incident," an official with oil tanker association INTERTANKO told Reuters. "We are looking for more information about this latest event."
Shipping sources said they were bracing for more tensions at sea, which could lead to a spike in shipping costs.
"For crude, bulk carriers, there is little option but to continue to sail through the Strait (of Hormuz)," said Andy Lane at shipping specialist CTI Consultancy.
Washington on Thursday acknowledged concern about Iran's conduct. The Pentagon did not rule out again ordering U.S. warships to accompany commercial vessels passing through the Strait of Hormuz, as it did after the last incident.
The latest episode in the Gulf coincided with mounting concern over an Iranian cargo ship headed to Yemen. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has imposed inspections on all ships to stop weapons supplies reaching the Iran-allied Houthi rebels, which control most of the country.
The Iran Shahed cargo ship was sailing past the coast of Oman on Friday bound for the Red Sea Yemeni port of Hodaida, which it was estimated to reach on May 20, ship tracking data on Reuters showed.
Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara and Keith Wallis in Singapore, Editing by David Goodman, Dominic Evans, Larry King and Crispian Balmer