Heightened tensions in the Gulf

Haitham Nouri , Wednesday 15 May 2019

Oil tankers and other commercial vessels were sabotaged in the Gulf this week as tensions continue to hang over the region

Norwegian oil tanker Andrea Victory
A picture taken on May 13, 2019 off the coast of the Gulf emirate of Fujairah shows Norwegian oil tanker Andrea Victory, one of the four tankers damaged in alleged "sabotage attacks" in the Gulf the previous day (Photo: AFP)

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said on Tuesday that two oil-pumping stations for the East-West pipeline had been hit by explosive-laden drones, calling the attack “an act of terrorism” that targeted global oil supplies.

Al-Falih said that Saudi oil output and exports for crude and refined products were continuing without disruption.

Houthi-run Masirah TV earlier on Tuesday cited a military official saying the Houthis had launched drone attacks on “vital Saudi installations”.

A number of commercial ships and oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf this week, with many countries condemning the incidents and expressing worries as the region’s stock markets plummeted after the attacks.

Al-Falih released a statement on Monday saying that “two Saudi oil tankers were attacked near the emirate of Fujairah as they were about to cross the Arabian Gulf.” The attacks did not lead to any casualties or an oil spill but caused “significant damage to the vessels”, he said.

Al-Falih added that “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.”

The attacks took place one day after the UAE announced four commercial vessels had been “sabotaged” near Fujairah 115km from Iran. A UAE Foreign Ministry statement said the four ships were “civilian commercial ship of various nationalities”.

A Norwegian cargo company said one of its ships was sabotaged, adding that an unidentified body had created a hole in one of its oil tankers. The Foreign Ministry called the incidents “worrisome” and said there would be an investigation.

Meanwhile, the UAE dismissed reports of bombings in Fujairah as “baseless”, adding that port operations had continued as usual.

But many countries are concerned that details of the attacks have not been revealed.

Spokesman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry Abbas Mousavi said “the Sunday incidents on several vessels in the Sea of Oman were alarming and regrettable.”

He “warned against plots by ill-wishers wanting to disrupt regional security” and called for “the vigilance of regional states in the face of adventurism by foreign elements”.

Egypt and Jordan condemned the attacks, and a high-level official in the Pentagon said US units were aiding UAE military authorities investigating the “sabotage” incidents.

Tensions heightened in the Gulf after the US sent B-52 bombers to the Middle East to counter “clear indications” of threats from Iran. In a sign of concern at the rising tensions, UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt warned of the risks of “a conflict happening by accident” with unintended escalation between Washington and Tehran over the unravelling Iran nuclear deal.

Hunt said he would “share Britain’s concerns with Germany and France and with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo” who was in Brussels on Monday for talks on Iran.

Meanwhile, Riyadh’s stock market, the largest in the region, fell by 2.7 per cent in the wake of the attacks. Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s stock exchanges dropped by 3.7 per cent and 2.5 per cent, respectively.

Qatar recorded a 2.1 per cent drop, and there was a 1.25 per cent in Kuwait, a 0.16 per cent drop in Amman, and a 0.6 per cent drop in Bahrain.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Heightened tensions  in the Gulf

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