SUN 26 - 5 - 2019
May 14, 2019
The Daily Star
Oil tankers damaged in ‘sabotage’ attack off UAE
FUJAIRAH, United Arab Emirates: Two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian-flagged vessel were damaged in what Gulf officials described Monday as a “sabotage” attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
While details of the incident remain unclear, it raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies at a time of increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers. The U.S. issued a new warning to sailors as the UAE’s regional allies condemned Sunday’s alleged attack that the UAE says targeted four ships off the coast of its port city of Fujairah.
While Gulf officials declined to say who they suspect may be responsible, the U.S. has warned ships that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the region. America deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Arabian Gulf to counter alleged, still-unspecified threats from Tehran.
The scale of the alleged sabotage also remains unclear. A statement from Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the kingdom’s two oil tankers, including one due to later carry crude to the U.S., 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 MT Andrea Victory, another of the allegedly targeted ships, sustained a hole in its hull just above its waterline from “an unknown object,” its owner Thome Ship Management said in a statement. Images Monday of the Andrea Victory, which the company said was “not in any danger of sinking,” showed damage similar to what the firm described.
Emirati officials identified the third ship as the Saudi-flagged oil tanker Amjad. Ship-tracking data showed the vessel still anchored off Fujairah, apparently not in immediate distress. The fourth ship was the A. Michel, a bunkering tanker flagged in Sharjah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates.The incident raises 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 U.S. 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 140 kilometers south of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a third of all oil at sea is traded.
The alleged sabotage caused jitters in global oil markets, as benchmark Brent crude rose in trading to over $71.50 a barrel Monday, a change of 1.3 percent.
Falih 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.”
Shortly after the Saudi announcement, Iran’s Foreign Ministry called for further clarification about what exactly happened with the vessels. The ministry’ 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.
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.”
“I’m hearing little stories about Iran. ... If they do anything they will suffer greatly,” he warned.
Tensions have risen since Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and restored 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.
U.S. 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.” Pompeo also shared information on “escalating” threats from Iran during the meetings, the U.S. special representative for Iran Brian Hook told reporters.
Hook said Pompeo also discussed reported attacks on several oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Asked if Pompeo was blaming Iran for the attacks, Hook said: “We discussed ... what seemed to be attacks on commercial vessels that were anchored off Fujairah ... we have been requested by the UAE to provide assistance in the investigation, which we are very glad to do.”
Underling 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.
The U.S. Maritime Administration, a division of the U.S. 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.
Iranian lawmaker blames 'Israeli mischief' for tanker attacks off UAE coast
GENEVA: The tanker attacks off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were "Israeli mischief," an Iranian parliamentary spokesperson said on Tuesday, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
"The events that took place in the Emirates were Israeli mischief," Behrouz Nemati said, without providing any details on what role Israel may have played in the attacks.
Saudi Arabia said on Monday that two of its oil tankers were among those attacked off the coast of the 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.
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