Monday, 20 May, 2019

First assessment blames Iran for Middle East ship explosions, official says

UAE says four vessels targets of 'sabotage' in waters near Fujairah port Saudi oil tankers attacked near UAE waters: Energy minister
Ginger Lawrence | 14 May, 2019, 06:41

The announcement by the kingdom's energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, came as the US issued a new warning to sailors and the U.A.E.'s regional allies condemned the reported sabotage Sunday of four ships off the coast of the port city of Fujairah.

One of the ships that suffered damage was heading for the UAE port of Fujairah, which, crucially, is situated on the UAE's east coast, outside of the Strait of Hormuz.

The Associated Press reported that a USA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, "said each ship has a 5- to 10-foot hole in it, near or just below the water line, and the team's early belief is that the holes were caused by explosive charges". The UAE's Foreign Ministry called the incident "sabotage", without going into details.

The statement from the UAE's Foreign Ministry pinpointed the supposedly sabotaged ships near the country's territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of the port of Fujairah.

The United States and Iran are at risk of stumbling into war by accident, the foreign secretary warned yesterday after the sabotage of four oil tankers in the Gulf. This is the latest vessel to be reportedly vandalised in the region.

While the agency didn't mention casualties or oil spills, it did say there had been "significant damage to the structures of the two vessels".

Emirati officials identified the third ship as the Saudi-flagged oil tanker Amjad.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said the incident aims "to undermine the freedom of maritime navigation, and the security of oil supplies to consumers all over the world", according to SPA.

"The global community (needs to) assume its responsibilities to prevent any parties trying to undermine the security and safety of maritime traffic", the ministry said.

End of Iran sanctions waivers to hit Indian economy
There was no news whether the biggest purchasers of Iranian oil continues their import despite the lifting of the waivers. Brent crude oil settled 23 cents, or 0.4%, higher at $70.62 a barrel, but posted a weekly loss of 0.3%.

The US Maritime Administration said in an advisory on Sunday that the incidents off Fujairah, one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, have not been confirmed and urged caution when transiting the area. "Subjecting commercial vessels to sabotage operations and threatening the lives of their crew is considered a risky development", the ministry statement said.

The U.S. Maritime Administration had warned about an attack by "Iran or its proxies" on oil facilities or vessels in the region last week, said CNN.

Shortly after the Saudi announcement, Iran's Foreign Ministry called for further clarification about what exactly happened with the Saudi tankers.

Iranian oil tanker approaching the port of Rotterdam, Holland.

CNN suggested that the price surge could have been caused by fears of a supply crunch due to "sabotage", as the UAE put it, because as an incident left several oil tankers damaged.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shared information on " escalating" threats from Iran during meetings with European Union counterparts and the head of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in Brussels, the U.S. special representative for Iran Brian Hook told reporters.

A senior Iranian lawmaker said that the explosions near Fujairah port showed that the security of Gulf states is fragile, Reuters reported. An investigation had been launched in coordination with worldwide authorities, it said, calling on global powers to prevent any parties trying to harm maritime safety and security.

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

The United States had imposed new sanctions on Iran in November a year ago, but gave a six-month waiver to eight countries, including India, which allowed them to import some Iranian oil.