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Tanker Shipping & Trade

Tanker Shipping & Trade

Saudi Arabia reports attacks on two of its tankers

Mon 13 May 2019 by Jamey Bergman

Saudi Arabia reports attacks on two of its tankers
Arabian Gulf: there are currently 138 VLCCs in the region, 35 laden (red) and 103 in ballast (green), of which 13 are listed as operated by Saudi Arabia (credit: VesselsValue)

Saudi Arabia's official government news agency has released a statement from Saudi energy minister Khalid Al-Falih denouncing what he said was a "sabotage attack" on two Saudi tankers off the coast of Fujairah.

Mr Al-Falih's statement said the attack occured in UAE waters at 6am local time yesterday, 12 May 2019.

"Two Saudi oil tankers were subjected to a sabotage attack in the exclusive economic zone of the United Arab Emirates, off the coast of the Emirate of Fujairah, while on their way to cross into the Arabian Gulf," the statement said.

"One of the two 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 United States."

According to the statement, there were no casualties and no oil spilled; however, the structures of the two vessels were reported to have sustained "significant damage". As yet, no official images or video of the incidents have been reported although tanker owners' organisation Intertanko was reported to have seen images showing at least two tanker vessels holed by what they called the "impact of a weapon".  

Media reports have linked Bahri to the two damaged Saudi tankers and reports from the UAE's foreign ministry on Sunday evening included two more tankers in the incident, taking the list of vessel casualties to four. The UAE said a joint international investigation was underway.

In separate staments published on the website of the government-funded Saudi Press Agency, official condemnations of the incident were attributed to an "official source at the [Saudi] Ministry of Foreign affairs" as well as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League and the governments of Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan. 

According to a joint statement from the latter, "The three countries' foreign ministries expressed support by the side of the UAE, and called on the world community and international authorities in charge of maritime navigation to practice their political and legal responsibilities to prevent any parties from tampering [with] the security and safety of maritime navigation in this vital region, confirming that such irresponsible activities are doomed to increase the degree of tension and struggle in the region and jeopardise the interests of their peoples."

Iran has called for a full investigation into the incident, calling it a "worrisome" development.

Tensions have have been on the rise in the region since US President Donald Trump announced the reinstatement of sanctions against Iran in 2018, pulling the US out of an Obama administration-negotiated nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Just a week before the Saudi tankers were damaged, the US announced plans to reposition a warship and called in a Patriot missile system to the Persian Gulf to counter unspecified 'threats' from Iran. Meanwhile, US B52 bombers have arrived in neighbouring Qatar.

The Strait of Hormuz region is a natural chokepoint for tankers sailing to load at Saudi Arabian oil terminals in the Arabian Gulf and an outlet for Iranian frustrations as President Trump applies added pressure on the regime.

According to data on the VesselsValue mapping product, there are currently 138 VLCCs in the region, of which 13 are listed as operated by Saudi Arabia.

Jamey Bergman and Craig Jallal both contributed to this story

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