Saudi Arabia said on Monday that two of its oil tankers had been sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, in attacks it described as posing a threat to the security of global oil supplies.
Tensions have risen in the oil-rich region in recent weeks amid the deployment of a growing number of United States military assets to the Middle East due to deteriorating relations with Iran.
On Thursday, the US Maritime Administration issued an advisory warning that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting commercial vessels and oil production infrastructure in the region.
One of the two Saudi vessels was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude oil from the port of Ras Tanura, to be delivered to customers in the US, Saudi Arabia’s state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported Monday.
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.”
On Sunday, the UAE said that four commercial cargo ships were targeted by “sabotage operations” off its eastern coast. The apparent sabotage took place near to UAE territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of the emirate of Fujairah, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said Sunday.
It is unclear if the ships mentioned by Saudi Arabia and the UAE are part of the same incident.
The UAE ministry did not elaborate on the nature of the alleged sabotage, or offer any indication as to who might be responsible, including whether it was carried out by individuals or a larger group or country.
The UAE ministry said authorities were working with local and international bodies to investigate the incident, which it described as a “dangerous development.” It said there were no injuries or deaths.
“The international community (needs to) assume its responsibilities to prevent any parties trying to undermine the security and safety of maritime traffic,” the ministry said.
According to the SPA, Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the attack was an attempt to “undermine the freedom of maritime navigation, and the security of oil supplies to consumers all over the world.”
UAE denies earlier reports
The accusations of sabotage come less than 24 hours after the UAE government denied reports alleging that seven oil tankers were involved in an explosion in the port of Fujairah on Sunday morning.
The reports were carried first by Lebanon’s pro-Hezbollah Al-Mayadeen satellite channel and later picked up by Iran’s state-owned Press TV and other outlets.
“The operations at the port are going as normal,” a statement from the Emirates News Agency said Sunday. “Media outlets must be responsible and rely on official sources.”
Fujairah is located close to the Strait of Hormuz, a strategically important waterway that connects the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea.
The US Energy Information Administration calls the Strait of Hormuz “the world’s most important oil transit chokepoint,” with an estimated 20% of oil traded worldwide moving through the channel, which is about 30 miles wide at its narrowest point.
In a statement Sunday, the Gulf Cooperation Council condemned the “sabotage operations,” with council General Secretary Abdul Latif bin Rashid al-Zayani calling the incident a “dangerous escalation (that) speaks of the evil intentions” of whoever carried out the attack.
“The general secretary calls on the international community and the international maritime organizations to practice its politics and lawfulness to stop any sides that try to harm the safety or the maritime flow in this strategic part to the world,” read the statement.
“These irresponsible acts only adds to the tension and conflict in the region and jeopardize the interests of their peoples.”