As The Guardian reported earlier on Monday, Saudi Arabia said two of its oil tankers have been damaged in mysterious “sabotage attacks” in the Gulf, as the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, held emergency talks with his European counterparts about mounting tensions in the region.
The United Arab Emirates said on Sunday that four commercial vessels had been sabotaged near Fujairah emirate, outside the Strait of Hormuz. The UAE did not give the ships’ nationalities or any other details about the vessels’ ownership, but Riyadh identified two of them as Saudi, and a Norwegian company said it owned another. The fourth ship was reportedly the A Michel, a storage tanker flagged in Sharjah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates.
Escalating rhetoric in the region and in the US has raised fears of a confrontation between Iran and the US, which is backed by its key Gulf allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The US state department billed Pompeo’s talks in Brussels as a chance “to discuss recent threatening actions and statements” by Iran.
No side has taken responsibility for the alleged acts of sabotage. Iran called for an investigation into the incident and spoke of “adventurism” by foreign players to disrupt maritime security.
The Saudi energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, said the incident involving the two Saudi-owned vessels occurred on Sunday at 6am. Riyadh had yet to produce photographic evidence of damage.
Thome Ship Management said its Norwegian-registered oil products tanker MT Andrew Victory was “struck by an unknown object”. Footage seen by Reuters showed a hole in the hull at the waterline with the metal torn open inwards.
The cause of the damage and type of weapon used remains a mystery. If the cause was a device in the water, the only reported – and comparable – use of such devices in the region recently has been the deployment by Houthi rebels of naval mines, several dozen of which been deployed in the conflict in Yemen, including at least one improvised sea mine.
Houthis have also targeted Saudi oil facilities with missiles in the past including four missiles fired at the Saudi Aramco facilities on the Red Sea last year.
Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, called for calm in the Gulf, as he said there was a danger of conflict erupting by accident.
A Saudi government source said: “This criminal act constitutes a serious threat to the security and safety of maritime navigation and adversely impacts regional and international peace and security.”
Falih said one of the two Saudi vessels was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude oil from the port of Ras Tanura, to be delivered to Saudi Aramco’s customers in the US. “Fortunately, the attack didn’t lead to any casualties or oil spill; however, it caused significant damage to the structures of the two vessels,” he added.
Shipping industry sources identified the Saudi vessels as the large crude carrier tanker Amjad and crude tanker Al Marzoqah, owned by Bahri, Saudi’s national shipping carrier, which has yet to comment.