Tankers re­ported dam­aged off UAE on ma­jor oil trade route

The News-Times - - NATION/WORLD -

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.

AFP/Getty Im­ages

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.

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