On Monday, reporters off the UAE coast examine the Saudi oil tanker Al-Marzoqah, one of the four tankers damaged in alleged "sabotage attacks" in the Persian Gulf the previous day. Photo: AFP / Emirati National Media Council

Saudi Arabia says it was forced to shut down a key pipeline connecting the country’s oil-rich east to a Red Sea port on Tuesday after two pumping stations came under attack by armed drones, with the country’s oil chief blaming Iran for the incident.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels appeared to claim responsibility for the attack, announcing that seven of their “aircrafts” – known to be drones – had targeted vital installations in Saudi Arabia via their news outlet Al-Masirah TV.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih called the attack, which came on the heels of reported damage to Saudi and UAE-flagged tankers in the Gulf, “an act of terrorism and sabotage” against the global oil flow.

“This act of terrorism and sabotage, in addition to recent acts in the Arabian Gulf, do not only target the kingdom but also the security of world oil supplies and the global economy,” Falih said.

“These attacks prove again that it is important for us to face terrorist entities, including the Houthi militias in Yemen that are backed by Iran.”

The drone attack, according to the statement, occurred between 6:00 am. and 6:30 am. Tuesday and affected two pumping stations on the East-West pipeline, which transports oil from the Eastern Province to the Red Sea port of Yanbu.

The state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco temporarily shut down the pipeline to evaluate its condition and was working to restore operations, while a fire which broke out at one of the pump stations has since been contained, according to Falih.

The minister, the state news agency said, stressed that “Saudi oil production has not been interrupted.”

Gulf tensions rise

The pipeline incident comes on the heels of rising tensions in the Gulf, where the United Arab Emirates announced on Sunday that four vessels had been exposed to undisclosed “sabotage.”

“Four commercial ships were subjected to sabotage operations today, 12 May, near UAE territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of Fujairah,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said in a statement carried by state news agency WAM.

The ministry said there had been no injuries or fatalities, and no spillage of fuel or harmful chemicals.

Riyadh separately announced that two of its oil tankers, apparently among the four, were “sabotaged” off the coast of Fujairah.

The vessels named until now are the Saudi-flagged Amjad, the Saudi-flagged Marzouqa, the UAE-flagged A Michelle, and the Norwegian-flagged Andrew Victory.

Scarce information about the nature of the alleged attacks has been made available, however. A video report by Abu Dhabi’s Sky News showed the hull of one vessel, the Andrea Victory, appearing to be twisted in one area from an impact at the waterline, though it was unclear exactly what had occurred.

The Associated Press said that Emirati officials had declined a request for its journalists to be permitted to approach the vessels up close by ship and inspect the damage.

“A US official in Washington, without offering any evidence, said that an American military team’s initial assessment indicated Iran or Iranian allies used explosives to blow holes in the ships, including two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati oil tanker,” the news agency reported.

Noam Raydan, a geopolitical analyst at the tanker tracker Clipper Data, said that the information made available thus far has “raised more questions than answers.”

“There are a number of reports carrying one or two US officials saying the US suspects Iran is behind this, but it’s all based on assumptions. There is no concrete data, and until now, we still have no images showing the damage clearly,” she told Asia Times.

Those videos that have been taken of the Andrea Victory‘s hull, she noted, did not reveal exactly what had happened. 

“Was it a torpedo? A mine? We still don’t know,” she said. “The Saudis and the Emiratis say they’re going to carry out an investigation so I would wait to see what the final assessment is.” 

For companies like Clipper Data that assess security risks, a key piece of information to share with clients is that Fujairah port is operating normally.

But aside from that, there is the risk of rising tensions in the region.

“Given the timing, and what I would call rising tensions in the region, it tells me that the risks of miscalculation might be increasing. The US is turning the screws on Iran. And Iran looks like it’s being backed into a corner.

“With incidents like Fujairah, few people can tell you what happened. This might be going down a very dangerous path.” 

The reported tanker incidents occurred just a week after US National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that an aircraft carrier group was headed to the Gulf region to guard against possible attacks by Iran or allied groups in the region. The Houthis rebels, in Bolton’s book, would certainly be among them.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Join the Conversation

16 Comments

  1. Hello there, I think your site could possibly be having web browser compatibility problems.
    When I take a look at your site in Safari, it looks fine
    however, when opening in IE, it has some overlapping issues.

    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Besides that, fantastic blog!

  2. My brother recommended I might like this website. He used to be entirely right.
    This publish actually made my day. You can not consider simply how so
    much time I had spent for this information! Thank you!

  3. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something that I think I would never understand.

    It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get
    the hang of it!

  4. We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.

    Your web site offered us with valuable info
    to work on. You’ve done an impressive job and our whole
    community will be grateful to you.

  5. What’s Taking place i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It absolutely helpful and it has aided me out loads.
    I’m hoping to give a contribution & aid different users like its aided me.
    Good job.

  6. Good day I am so thrilled I found your webpage, I really found
    you by mistake, while I was browsing on Aol for something else, Regardless I am here now and would just
    like to say thank you for a incredible post and a all round interesting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to
    read it all at the moment but I have book-marked
    it and also included your RSS feeds, so
    when I have time I will be back to read much more, Please do keep up
    the great job.

  7. Thanks for some other informative web site. Where else may
    just I am getting that type of information written in such
    a perfect means? I’ve a undertaking that I’m just now working on,
    and I have been at the look out for such info.

  8. Just desire to say your article is as surprising. The clarity in your post is just spectacular and i could assume you are an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your RSS feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the enjoyable work.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *