Tankers reported damaged off UAE on major oil trade route
FUJAIRAH, United Arab Emirates — Two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian-flagged vessel were damaged in what Gulf officials described Monday as a “sabotage” attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. While details of the incident remain unclear, it raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies at a time of increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
The U.S. issued a new warning to sailors as the UAE’s regional allies condemned Sunday’s alleged attack that the UAE says targeted four ships off the coast of its port city of Fujairah.
It came just hours after Iranian and Lebanese media outlets aired false reports of explosions at the port.
Citing heightened tensions in the region, the United Nations called on “all concerned parties to exercise restraint for the sake of regional peace, including by ensuring maritime security” and freedom of navigation, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
While Gulf officials declined to say who they suspect may be responsible, the U.S. 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, still-unspecified threats from Tehran.
The scale of the alleged sabotage also remains unclear. A statement from Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the kingdom’s two oil tankers, including one due to later carry crude to the U.S., sustained “significant damage.” However, a report from Sky News Arabia, a satellite channel owned by an Abu Dhabi ruling family member, showed the allegedly targeted Saudi tanker Al Marzoqah afloat without any apparent damage.
The MT Andrea Victory, another of the allegedly targeted ships, sustained a hole in its hull just above its waterline from “an unknown object,” its owner Thome Ship Management said in a statement. Images Monday of the Andrea Victory, which the company said was “not in any danger of sinking,” showed damage similar to what the firm described.
Emirati officials identified the third ship as the Saudiflagged oil tanker Amjad. Shiptracking data showed the vessel still anchored off Fujairah, apparently not in immediate distress. The fourth ship was the A. Michel, a bunkering tanker flagged in Sharjah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that American naval investigators were assisting the Emiratis with their probe of the incident. The official was not authorized to discuss details of the assistance publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The incident raises questions about maritime security in the UAE, home to Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, the largest manmade deep-water harbor in the world that is also the U.S. Navy’s busiest port of call outside of America. From the coast, AP journalists saw an Emirati coast guard vessel patrolling near the area of one of the Saudi ships in Fujairah, some 130 miles northeast of Dubai on the Gulf of Oman.
The A. Michel tanker under the flag of the United Arab Emirates off the coast of the Gulf emirate of Fujairah on Monday. The tanker is one of the four damaged in alleged “sabotage attacks” in the Gulf the previous day.