Saudi oil tankers show 'significant damage' after sabotage attack

One vessel was bound for the US and comes after warnings that Iran or its proxies could target shipping in region

The reported incident, which could threaten the security of global oil supplies
The reported incident, which could threaten the security of global oil supplies

Two Saudi oil tankers have suffered “significant damage” in an apparent sabotage attack off the coast of Fujairah, part of the United Arab Emirates, the Saudi energy minister has said.

The reported incident, which could threaten the security of global oil supplies, comes after the US warned ships that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the region, prompting the US to send an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf.

One of the two vessels was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude oil bound for customers in the US, state news agency SPA reported. The attack did not lead to any casualties or an oil spill but caused significant damage to the structures of the two vessels, said Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih on Monday.

On Sunday, the UAE foreign ministry said four commercial vessels were targeted by “sabotage operations” near its territorial waters but gave no details of the nature of the sabotage. Hours later, Iranian and Lebanese media outlets aired false reports of explosions at a nearby Emirati port.

Tensions have risen in the year since Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, restoring American sanctions that have pushed Iran’s economy into crisis. Last week, Iran warned it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal.

The statement from the UAE’s foreign ministry put the commercial ships near the country’s territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of the port of Fujairah. It said it was investigating the incident “in cooperation with local and international bodies”. It said there were “no injuries or fatalities on board the vessels” and “no spillage of harmful chemicals or fuel”.

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which oversees the region, did not immediately offer comment on the incident. Emirati officials declined to elaborate while their investigation is ongoing.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman called the incidents “worrisome and dreadful”, and asked for an investigation into the matter.

Earlier on Sunday, Lebanon’s pro-Iran satellite channel Al-Mayadeen, quoting “Gulf sources” falsely reported that a series of explosions had struck Fujairah’s port. State and semi-official media in Iran picked up the report from Al-Mayadeen, which later published the names of vessels it claimed were involved in the incident.

Associated Press, after speaking to Emirati officials and local witnesses, found the report about explosions at the port to be unsubstantiated.

Fujairah’s port is about 85 miles from the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of all oil at sea is traded. The facility handles oil for shipping, as well as general and bulk cargo. It is seen as strategically located, serving shipping routes in the Persian Gulf, the Indian subcontinent and Africa.

The reported sabotage incident came after the US Maritime Administration warned on Thursday that Iran could target commercial sea traffic.

“Since early May, there is an increased possibility that Iran and/or its regional proxies could take action against US and partner interests, including oil production infrastructure, after recently threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz,” the warning read. “Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or US military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, or the Persian Gulf.”

It was unclear if that was the same perceived threat that prompted the White House to order the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region on 4 May.

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