On May 12th, four commercial ships were sabotaged, near the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of Fujairah, in the Persian Gulf, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, MOFAIC announced.
There were no injuries and no fatalities on the vessels, and there were no spills of hazardous chemicals or fuel.
“The MOFAIC statement said that the carrying out acts of sabotage on commercial and civilian vessels and threatening the safety and lives of those on board is a serious development. It called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to prevent such actions by parties attempting to undermine maritime traffic safety and security.
The Ministry also described as ‘baseless and unfounded’ rumours earlier today, 12th May, of incidents taking place within the Port of Fujairah, saying that operations within the port were under way as normal, without any interruption.”
On May 13th, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said that two of the allegedly attacked tankers were Saudi Arabian.
— Foreign Ministry ?? (@KSAmofaEN) May 13, 2019
One of the ships was en route to pick up Saudi oil to take to the United States, Falih said.
Falih said the attack did not cause any casualties or an oil spill but inflicted significant damage to the Saudi vessels’ structures. He said it aimed to undermine maritime freedom and the security of oil supplies to consumers worldwide.
“The international community has a joint responsibility to protect the safety of maritime navigation and the security of oil tankers, to mitigate against the adverse consequences of such incidents on energy markets and the danger they pose to the global economy,” he said.
The UAE identified the vessels as very large crude carrier (VLCC) tanker Amjad and crude tanker Al Marzoqah, both owned by Saudi shipping firm Bahri. The other two were UAE-flagged fuel bunker barge A Michel and Norwegian-registered oil products tanker MT AndreA Victory.
Thome Ship Management said its Norwegian-registered oil products tanker MT Andrew Victory was “struck by an unknown object”.
The UAE authorities said they would not publish any conclusions until an investigation was complete. Jaber Al Lamki, an executive director at the UAE’s National Media Council, said: “The incident was an attempt to sabotage not just boats, but one aimed at undermining global oil supplies and maritime security.”
Al Jazeera cited an anonymous US official who claimed that the US military was investigating the alleged sabotage on the boats.
After all, the alleged attacks on ships flying flags of countries allied to the US comes amid rising tensions between the US and Iran.
The US deployed USS Abraham Lincoln and its carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf, in addition to placing B-52 bombers in Qatar, to deter Iran against an expected Iranian attack on US forces in the Middle East.
The US is also reportedly preparing to deploy 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the case of an escalation with Iran.
Britain’s Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt also warned of the risks of “a conflict happening by accident” with an unintended escalation between Washington and Tehran over an unravelling nuclear deal.
Underlining 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.
Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen’s Saudi-controlled government condemned the alleged sabotage.
Conveniently, the US Maritime Administration on May 11th, issued a warning that Iran may target US forces in the Persian Gulf and Middle East. It also warned that Iran may target “oil production infrastructure, after recently threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or U.S. military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, or the Persian Gulf.”
On Tehran’s side, Iranian national outlet IRNA reported that Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had earlier claimed that the country expected “suspicious sabotage acts.” Essentially, Iran distanced itself from the attacks and claimed it was a false flag.
“In this meeting, concern about suspicious actions and sabotage in the region was talked about, and we said that we had previously predicted that such actions would occur to create tensions in the region,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif following talks with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi on May 14th.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi also warned about “plots by ill-wishers to undermine stability and security in the region.”
A senior Iranian official, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the head of Majlis national security and foreign policy commission said that the alleged sabotage of the tankers was proof how fragile security was in the Persian Gulf.
He further claimed the act was performed by a “third party.”
Talking to IRNA, the Iranian lawmaker explained that “when the states south of Persian Gulf turn the region into a military zone, they are those who are hurt the most.”
Emphasizing that the Persian Gulf should be a safe region, Falahatpisheh said that he had warned that the third parties might disrupt the security in the region to push the situation toward a conflict.
He went on to say that Iran and the US could manage the crisis on their own, but there are third parties that might stir up tension through their ‘deviating moves’.
The lawmaker said that he sees a hotline between Tehran and Washington as necessary to enable them to manage developments so that no third parties could take advantage of the situation.
Finally, he concluded that Iran strongly condemns the alleged attack and calls for a thorough investigation.
Another alleged sabotage that could potentially be blamed on Iran was a drone strike on Saudi Arabian oil pipeline infrastructure.
The incident is an “act of terrorism,” Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said according to the Saudi state news agency SPA, describing attacks on two oil pumping stations near Riyadh for the country’s East-West pipeline carried out with bomb-laden drones.
“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,” the SPA described al-Falih as saying.
Hours earlier the Yemen’s Masirah TV, loyal to the Houthis reported that seven drones had beeen employed against vital Saudi installations.
The Houthis, who are fighting against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen have attacked oil infrastructure, as well as tankers before, and Iran has been repeatedly blamed of providing weapons to them. Iran has declined all alegations.
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