Saudi : “Sabotage attacks” on oil tankers undermine supply security

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By Salim Essaid  with Reuters
Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018.
Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

Saudi Arabia said on Monday that two of its oil tankers were among vessels targeted by a “sabotage attack” near Fujairah port in the United Arab Emirates, claiming it as an aggression towards the security of global crude supplies.

The incident took place amid heightened U.S. and Iran political tensions, which Britain's Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt highlighted as "a conflict happening by accident" that could cause unintended escalation between the U.S. and Iran.

The Saudi government confirmed that two of the vessels targeted belonged to the kingdom, and a Norwegian company said it owned another, while details about the fourth vessel remain unclear.

A statement from the Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said there were zero casualties or oil spills from the attacks, but they caused significant damage to the vessels’ structures.

One of the two vessels was on its way to Saudi Aramco’s Ras Tanura port to be loaded with crude, and delivered to its U.S. customers.

A senior Iranian lawmaker said "saboteurs from a third country" looking to create unrest in the region could be the culprits according to the Iran government's Islamic Republic News Agency.

The UAE said it is launching a probe into the matter without pointing fingers at any state, after it said Sunday that four commercial vessels were targeted near the territorial waters of Fujairah emirate.

The Fujairah government denied media reports that blasts had taken place inside the port, and said that the facility was operating normally in a statement from the Emirates News Agency.

The maritime harbour is one of the world’s largest storage hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz, a critical 33-kilometre water passage linking the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea, where a fifth of the world’s oil used passes through to link Middle East exporters to Europe, Asia, and other continents.

Vortexa, an energy analytics firm, stated that about 17.4 million barrels per day of crude and condensates were shipped through the strait in the first half of 2018.

The passageway has been at the heart of regional tensions for decades. Last month, Iran said it would block the Strait of Hormuz if it was barred from using the strategic waterway, but it has not acted on these statements.

Iran’s foreign ministry called the attacks “worrisome” and “dreadful," calling for an investigation. The oil rich nation faced a tightening on sanctions this month as the U.S. increased economic and military pressure on Iran by cutting off oil exports to the country while strengthening their Navy and Air Force presence in the Gulf.

On Sunday, senior Iranian lawmaker said that the attacks were as a sign of weak security in the UAE and Gulf States.

“The explosions of Fujairah showed that the security of the south of the Persian Gulf is like glass,” said Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, head of parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain is assigned with protecting commercial ships passing through the corridor for international oil exports.