BRUSSELS - The European Union on Thursday called for "maximum restraint" to avoid escalation after two tankers were reportedly attacked in the Gulf of Oman, forcing their crews to evacuate the vessels.
The incident, the second involving shipping in the strategic sea lane in only a few weeks, came amid spiralling tensions between Tehran and Washington, which pointed the finger at Iran over tanker attacks in May.
Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, said the bloc was still gathering information on the incident, which involved one Norwegian and one Japanese-owned vessel.
"The region does not need further elements of destabilisation and tensions and therefore her (Mogherini's) call and our call continues to be for maximum restraint and to avoid any provocations," Kocijancic said.
The US Fifth Fleet said its warships had received distress calls from two vessels in a "reported attack", while Iran said its navy had rescued 44 crew members after the ships caught fire in "accidents" off its coast.
Singapore-based BSM Ship Management said it had "launched a full-scale emergency response following a security incident" involving the Kokuka Courageous which is owned by Japanese company Kokuka Sangyo Ltd.
"The 21 crew of the vessel abandoned ship after the incident on board which resulted in damage to the ship's hull starboard side," it said.
"One crew man from the Kokuka Courageous was slightly injured in the incident and is receiving first aid."
It said the vessel was about 70 nautical miles from the United Arab Emirates and just 14 from the coast of Iran.
Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters in Tokyo: "A tanker carrying Japan-related goods was attacked.
"There were no injuries among the crew members. They got off the tanker. There were no Japanese members."
The incident came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was on an unprecedented visit to Iran, seeking to defuse tensions between Toyko's ally Washington and the Islamic Republic.
Tehran said it has dispatched a helicopter from the port of Bandar-e-Jask to the ships' location for "further investigation".