Saudi Oil Tankers Among Those Attacked Off UAE Amid Iran Tensions
DUBAI/LONDON (May 13, 2019) — Saudi Arabia said on Monday that two of its oil tankers were among those attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and described it as an attempt to undermine the security of crude supplies amid tensions between the United States and Iran.
The UAE said on Sunday that four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz. It did not describe the nature of the attack or say who was behind it.
The UAE on Monday identified the vessels as two crude oil tankers owned by Saudi shipping firm Bahri, a UAE-flagged fuel bunker barge and a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker.
The owner of the Norwegian vessel, Thome Ship Management, said the vessel 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.
A Reuters witness said divers were inspecting the ships. The UAE’s state news agency said Fujairah port was operating normally.
Iran, embroiled in an escalating war of words with the United States over sanctions and the US military presence in the region, moved to distance itself on Monday.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry called the incidents “worrisome and dreadful” and called for an investigation.
A senior Iranian lawmaker said “saboteurs from a third country” could be behind it, after saying on Sunday the incident showed the security of Gulf states was fragile.
A US official familiar with American intelligence said Iran was a leading candidate for having carried out the attacks but the United States does not have conclusive proof.
Saudi Oil Tankers Sabotaged, Officials Attempt to Blame Iran; Iran Denies Involvement; US Can’t Find Proof
(May 13, 2019) — With the US military buildup in the area around Iran, hawks both within the administration and elsewhere in the region suspect that it might not take much to sucker the US into starting a war. Something oil tanker related might do it.
A pair of Saudi oil tankers have been reported to have been “sabotaged” off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. What actually happened is unclear. Officials are only saying sabotage and not elaborating on what happened to the ships or how.
Officials are investigating, however, and with all the talk of undermining international security, the public is meant to suspect that the Iranian government did it, whatever “it” actually was, because the US has been warning Iran that they’d better not do something.
Iran is denying having anything to do with it, with a top Iranian MP saying that the explosions at the port could’ve been carried out by saboteurs from a third country interested in instability. The UAE has denied that the explosions took place at all.
Trump has threatened to see Iran “suffer greatly” for anything else that they do, and other US officials say they definitely suspect Iran. They just can’t prove Iran actually did anything, which might be a problem.
One US official was quoted by Reuters as saying this is “the sort of thing you could see Iran doing.” That seems to be the sum total of the evidence pointing to Iran’s involvement, but it also seems plenty for the officials.
Indeed, when recognizing that they don’t have physical proof, and Iran denied doing it, the official said that the “most obvious explanation” was that Iran was lying in the denial to try to throw people off.
Iranian Lawmaker Says ‘Saboteurs from a Third Country’ May Be Behind Fujairah Explosions – IRNA
LONDON (May 13, 2019) — A senior Iranian lawmaker said on Monday that “saboteurs from a third country” could be behind explosions near Fujairah port in the United Arab Emirates.
“The explosions of Fujairah port could have been carried out by saboteurs from a third country who seek instability in the region,” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, head of parliament’s national security committee, was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.
Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Monday that two Saudi oil tankers were targeted on Sunday in “a sabotage attack” off the coast of Fujairah, part of the United Arab Emirates, threatening the security of global oil supplies.
Iran Warns Against ‘Conspiracy by Ill-Wishers’ Over ‘Sabotage’ at UAE Port
(May 13, 2019) — The development comes shortly after the foreign ministry of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said on Sunday that four commercial vessels had been targeted in “acts of sabotage” in Gulf waters off its coast.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi has expressed concerns over a “sabotage” attack on several merchant ships off the UAE coast on Sunday, calling the incident “worrisome and dreadful”, and has urged an investigation into the matter, ISNA reported.
Mousavi was cited as saying that “such incidents have a negative impact on maritime transportation security”, cautioning against any “conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers” as well as “adventurism by foreigners” to undermine the region’s stability.
The comments followed a reported remark by Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, who said that two Saudi vessels were among those targeted near the UAE.
One of the two ships in question was attacked on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude at the port of Ras Tanura for delivery to Saudi Aramco in the US, Reuters reported.
The suspected attack didn’t lead to any casualties or oil spill, but is said to have caused significant damage to the structures of the two vessels.
“The international community has a joint responsibility to protect the safety of maritime navigation and the security of oil tankers, to mitigate against the adverse consequences of such incidents on energy markets and the danger they pose to the global economy”, al-Falih said in a statement, as quoted by Reuters.
As reports of the alleged sabotage attack kept flooding in, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States in the Gulf (GCC) issued a statement to condemn the incident:
“It is a dangerous development and escalation that reflects the evil intentions of those who planned and carried out these operations that endanger the safety of maritime navigation in the region and threaten the lives of the ships’ civilian crews”, the statement read.
On Sunday, the UAE said that four merchant vessels had been targeted in “acts of sabotage” in its territorial waters, thus brushing off previous reports by the Lebanon-based broadcaster al-Mayadeen, which said that several large blasts had occurred in the port of Fujairah. Reacting to the reports about explosions, authorities in Fujairah refuted the claims, stressing that the port was functioning as usual.
US Suspects Iran in Tanker Attack but Cannot Prove It
WASHINGTON (May 13, 2019) — Iran is a leading candidate for having carried out attacks on four tankers near the United Arab Emirates but the United States does not have conclusive proof Tehran was behind them, a US official familiar with American intelligence said on Monday.
“This is what Iran does … The sort of thing you could see Iran doing … It fits their M.O. (modus operandi),” said the official on condition of anonymity, saying the most obvious explanation for Iran’s statements distancing itself from the incident was that Tehran was “trying to muddy the waters.”
Satellite Images Show No Major Damage to ‘Sabotaged’ Ships
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (May 14, 2019) — Four oil tankers anchored in the Mideast were damaged by what Gulf officials described as sabotage, though satellite images obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday showed no major visible damage to the vessels.
Details of the alleged sabotage to two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati oil tanker on Sunday remained unclear, and Gulf officials have declined to say who they suspected was responsible. But it demonstrated the raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies as tensions are increasing between the US and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
The US has warned sailors of the potential for attacks on commercial sea traffic, and regional allies of the United Arab Emirates condemned the alleged sabotage as the tankers were off the coast of the UAE port city of Fujairah.
A US official in Washington, without offering any evidence, told the AP that an American military team’s initial assessment indicated Iran or Iranian allies used explosives to blow holes in the ships. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation, agreed to reveal the findings only if not quoted by name. The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the Mideast and operates from a base in Fujairah, has repeatedly declined to comment.
The US already had warned ships that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the region. America is deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf to counter alleged, still-unspecified threats from Tehran.
Citing heightened tensions in the region, the United Nations called on “all concerned parties to exercise restraint for the sake of regional peace, including by ensuring maritime security” and freedom of navigation, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
The scale of the alleged sabotage also remained unclear. A statement from Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said two of the kingdom’s oil tankers, including one due to later carry crude to the US, sustained “significant damage.” However, a report from Sky News Arabia, a satellite channel owned by an Abu Dhabi ruling family member, showed the allegedly targeted Saudi tanker Al Marzoqah afloat without any apparent damage.
The oil tankers were visible in satellite images provided Tuesday to the AP by Colorado-based Maxar Technologies. A boom surrounded the Emirati oil tanker A. Michel indicated the possibility of an oil leak. The other three showed no visible major damage from above.
The MT Andrea Victory, the fourth allegedly targeted ship, sustained a hole in its hull just above its waterline from “an unknown object,” its owner Thome Ship Management said in a statement. Images on Monday of the Norwegian-flagged Andrea Victory, which the company said was “not in any danger of sinking,” showed damage similar to what the firm described.
The US official said each ship sustained a 5- to 10-foot (1.5- to 3-meter) hole in it, near or just below the water line, suspected to have been caused by explosive charges. Emirati officials had requested a team of US military investigators aid them in their probe.
Authorities in Fujairah, also a UAE emirate, also declined to speak to the AP. Emirati officials stopped AP journalists from traveling by boat to see the ships.
The incident raised questions about maritime security in the UAE, home to Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, the largest man-made deep-water harbor in the world that is also the US Navy’s busiest port of call outside of America. From the coast, AP journalists saw an Emirati coast guard vessel patrolling near the area of one of the Saudi ships in Fujairah, some 130 miles (210 kilometers) northeast of Dubai on the Gulf of Oman.
Fujairah also is about 140 kilometers (85 miles) south of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil at sea is traded.
Al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister, said the attacks on the two Saudi tankers happened at 6 a.m. Sunday. He said “the attack didn’t lead to any casualties or oil spill,” though he acknowledged it affected “the security of oil supplies to consumers all over the world.”
It is “the joint responsibility of the international community to protect the safety of maritime navigation and the security of oil tankers, to mitigate against the adverse consequences of such incidents on energy markets, and the danger they pose to the global economy,” he said, according to the statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
The US Energy Department later said it was “monitoring the oil markets, and is confident they remain well-supplied.”
Shortly after the Saudi announcement, Iran’s Foreign Ministry called for further clarification about what exactly happened with the vessels. The ministry’s spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying there should be more information about the incident.
Mousavi also warned against any “conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers” and “adventurism by foreigners” to undermine the maritime region’s stability and security. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are staunch opponents of Iran’s government.
Asked at the White House about the incident, President Donald Trump responded: “It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens.”
Tensions have risen since Trump withdrew America from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and restored US 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.
European Union officials met Monday in Brussels to thrash out ways to keep the Iran nuclear deal afloat. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had traveled there for talks.
“We’re not going to miscalculate. Our aim is not war,” Pompeo told CNBC in an interview. “Our aim is a change in the behavior of the Iranian leadership.”
Underlining the regional risk, the general-secretary of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council described the incident as a “serious escalation.”
“Such irresponsible acts will increase tension and conflicts in the region and expose its peoples to great danger,” Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani said. Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen’s internationally recognized government similarly condemned the alleged sabotage, as did the Arab League.
The US Maritime Administration, a division of the US Transportation Department, warned Thursday that “Iran and/or its regional proxies” could target commercial sea traffic.
The agency issued a new warning Sunday to sailors about the alleged sabotage and urged shippers to exercise caution in the area for the next week.
It remained unclear if the previous warning from the US Maritime Administration is the same perceived threat that prompted the White House on May 4 to order the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and the B-52 bombers to the region. In a statement then, national security adviser John Bolton had warned Iran that “that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai; Bassem Mroue in Beirut; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Malak Harb in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates; and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report
Lebanon-based News Group Claims US, French Warplanes Behind Explosions at Fujairah Port, UAE Officials Deny
(May 13, 2019) — According to the Emirati Foreign Ministry, four merchant vessels had been targeted by “acts of sabotage” in Gulf waters off its coast.
“Four commercial, civilian trading vessels of various nationalities this morning suffered acts of sabotage off the UAE’s eastern coast,” the statement reads.
The government of Fujairah denied on Sunday media reports about several heavy explosions taking place at the emirate’s port, insisting that the port is functioning as usual.
“The press service of the Fujairah government denied media reports about powerful explosions in the emirate’s port earlier this day and confirmed that ship traffic is as usual,” the state-run WAM news agency reports.
Earlier in the day, the Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen broadcaster said, citing local media that several heavy explosions occurred in the port of Fujairah.
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. The broadcaster continued by saying that the real cause of the incident has still been unknown.
Other reports, citing eyewitnesses, suggested that American and French warplanes have been seen flying over the port at the time of the incident.
Currently, there’s no information on possible casualties, while the authorities haven’t commented on the incident yet.
Port of Fujairah is the only multi-purpose port on the Eastern seaside of the country and is connected to all other emirates within 300 km. The port stands some 70 nautical miles from the Strait of Hormuz, thus becoming increasingly important amid Iran’s threat to close the strait.
In July 2012, the UAE began utilising the Habshan-Fujairah oil pipeline from the Habshan fields in Abu Dhabi to the Fujairah, effectively bypassing the Strait of Hormuz.
Currently, the UAE is building the world’s largest crude oil storage facility in Fujairah, capable of storing up to 14 million barrels of oil.
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