S.Arabia’s statement came after Iranian, Lebanese media outlets aired incorrect reports of explosions at city’s port. — AFP/File
Saudi Arabia said two of its oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in attacks that caused “Significant damage” to the vessels, one of them as it was en route to pick up Saudi oil to take to the United States.
The announcement by Khalid al-Falih, came as the US issued a new warning to sailors and the UAE’s regional allies condemned the reported sabotage Sunday of four ships off the coast of the port city of Fujairah.
The statement came just hours after Iranian and Lebanese media outlets aired false reports of explosions at the city’s port. Emirati officials have declined to elaborate on the nature of the sabotage or say who might have been responsible.
The US has 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 threats from Tehran.
Shortly after the Saudi announcement, Iran’s Foreign Ministry called for further explanation about what exactly happened with the Saudi tankers. The ministry’ spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying there should be more evidence about the incident.
Tensions have risen in the year since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, restoring American sanctions that have pushed Iran’s economy into crisis.
In his statement, al-Falih said the attacks on the two tankers happened at 6 am Sunday.
“One of the two vessels was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude oil from the port of Ras Tanura, to be delivered to Saudi Aramco’s customers in the United States,” al-Falih said. “Fortunately, the attack didn’t lead to any casualties or oil spill; however, it caused significant damage to the structures of the two vessels.”
Underling the regional risk, the general-secretary of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council described the alleged sabotage as a “serious escalation” in an overnight statement.
“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.
A statement Sunday from the UAE’s Foreign Ministry put the ships near the country’s territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of the port of Fujairah. It said it was investigating “in cooperation with local and international bodies.”
It said there were “no injuries or fatalities on board the vessels” and “no spillage of harmful chemicals or fuel.”
Earlier Sunday, Lebanon’s pro-Iran satellite channel Al-Mayadeen, quoting “Gulf sources,” falsely reported that a series of explosions had smash into Fujairah’s port.
The AP, after speaking to Emirati officials and local witnesses, found the report about explosions at the port to be unconfirmed.
Fujairah’s port is about 140 kilometres (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.
Sunday’s incident comes after the U.S. Maritime Administration, a division of the US Transportation Department, warned Thursday that Iran could target commercial sea traffic.
“Since early May, there is an increased possibility that Iran and/or its regional proxies could take action against US and partner interests, including oil production infrastructure, after recently threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz,” the cautionary read.
“Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or US military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait or the Persian Gulf.”
It remains unclear if the previous warning from the US Maritime Administration is identical apparent threat that prompted the White House to order the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region on May 4.