Saudi Arabia oil tankers hit by 'sabotage attacks' as Gulf tensions soar

Saudi Arabia oil tankers hit by 'sabotage attacks' as Gulf tensions soar

Troy Powers
May 13, 2019

Saudi Arabia said two of its tankers were damaged in "a sabotage attack" while sailing toward the Persian Gulf, though no one has yet claimed responsibility.

The tankers were subjected to an "act of sabotage" early Sunday morning in waters off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, according to a statement by the Saudi Minister for Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, Khalid Al-Falih carried by the official Saudi news agency.

One of the two tankers that was attacked was on its way to be loaded with crude oil from a Saudi terminal for customers in the United States, Falih said.

The statement did not say who carried out the operations and made no mention of Iran, amid escalating tension in the region after the USA military sent forces, including an aircraft carrier, to the Middle East.

Oil futures were mixed on Monday, with U.S. crude edging lower, as investors and traders fretted over global economic growth prospects amid a standoff in Sino-U.S. trade talks.

The statement came just hours after Iranian and Lebanese media outlets aired false reports of explosions at Fujairah's port. Emirati officials have declined to elaborate on the nature of the sabotage or say who might have been responsible.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, threatened last month to close the chokepoint if Tehran was barred from using it.

Tensions escalate near the Strait of Hormuz after what the UAE called "sabotage attacks" on four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers.

Attacks on oil tankers in the turbulent Gulf have been rare since 1991.

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Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Monday expressed "regret" for the sabotage of commercial vessels and asked for more details "on the exact extent of of this incident".

He said such incidents would have a "negative impact. on shipping safety and maritime security" in the Gulf.

It was not clear whether the ships mentioned by Saudi Arabia and the UAE were part of the same incident.

Markets have been supported by Washington's bid to cut Iran's oil exports to zero and reduce exports from Venezuela, where infrastructure problems have also cut output.

He also "warned against plots by ill-wishers to disrupt regional security" and "called for the vigilance of regional states in the face of any adventurism by foreign elements", the statement added.

Al-Falih also said the attack aimed to undermine the "security of oil supplies to consumers all over the world" and emphasized the "joint responsibility of the global community to protect" the safety of maritime navigation and oil tankers.

The general-secretary of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council called the incident a "serious escalation". Oil had been losing ground since late last month on signs that Saudi Arabia would pump more to make up for lost Iranian barrels and a looming trade war between the world's two largest economies, the USA and China.

The blasts were heard between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. local time (00:00 - 03:00 GMT), the broadcaster reported, adding that from seven to 10 oil tankers were in flames.