DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – An oil tanker off the Saudi port city of Jiddah suffered an explosion Monday morning after being hit by “an outside source”, a shipping company said, suggesting that another vessel was attacked in wide of the kingdom during his years. war in Yemen.
The apparent attack on the Singapore-flagged BW Rhine, which was contracted by the commercial arm of the kingdom’s huge Saudi Arabian Oil Co., marks the fourth assault on Saudi energy infrastructure in a month. It also apparently closed the port of Jiddah, the kingdom’s most important shipping point.
It also renews concerns about the safety of ships in the Red Sea, a crucial staging area for global shipping and energy supplies that had largely avoided the chaos of regional tensions involving the United States and Iran over the year. last.
The BW Rhine had docked at Jiddah on Saturday, carrying more than 60,000 tonnes of unleaded gasoline from an Aramco refinery in Yanbu for consumption in the kingdom, according to data analysis firm Refinitiv. This is where the incident appears to have occurred.
The vessel was “hit by an external source while unloading,” said Haifna, a BW Group tanker company that owns and operates the vessel.
The strike sparked an explosion and fire aboard the ship, although the 22 sailors on board escaped uninjured and firefighters subsequently extinguished the blaze, Haifna said. Some of the oil may have polluted the water alongside the ship, although the company said it was still assessing the damage.
Saudi Arabia did not recognize the explosion hours later.
UK Maritime Trade Operations, an organization under the British Royal Navy, has urged ships in the region to exercise caution and said investigations are ongoing. He later said the port of Jiddah had been closed for an “unknown length of time”, without giving details.
Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence company, also reported the explosion. The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the Middle East, did not respond to a request for comment.
No one immediately offered the cause of the incident. However, the explosion comes after a mine exploded and damaged a ship off Saudi Arabia last month. Another mysterious attack targeted a cargo ship off the small port town of Nishtun in far eastern Yemen earlier this month.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have already used sea mines in their long war against a Saudi-led coalition. However, the Houthis did not comment on the attack last month.
Dryad Global said if it was the Houthis behind Monday’s blast, it “would represent a fundamental shift in targeting capabilities and intent.”
Since mid-November, there has also been what Saudi Arabia described as an attempted bomb-laden drone attack in Jazan, as well as a Houthi-claimed cruise missile attack that has struck an Aramco oil installation in Jiddah.
The incidents come after tensions between the United States and Iran were marked last year by a series of escalating incidents in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the nearby Gulf of Oman. Although the United States has formed a new coalition to monitor shipping there after these incidents, it is not operating in the Red Sea.
In recent weeks, an attack in Iran has killed a prominent scientist who founded Tehran’s military nuclear program two decades ago, an attack believed to have been carried out by Israel.
The attack pushed up oil prices, which had already risen in recent days as Western countries began distributing coronavirus vaccines. Brent benchmark crude was above $ 50 a barrel on Monday on the stock market.
The Red Sea, with the Suez Canal to the north and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait to the south, is a vital shipping lane for the world’s freight and energy supply. Its currents change seasonally and now go north. Saudi Arabia recently accused the Houthis of dumping mines in the southern Red Sea, which could be transported to Jiddah.
The Red Sea has already been mined. In 1984, some 19 ships reported striking landmines there, with only one being recovered and disarmed, according to a UN panel of experts investigating the war in Yemen. Any new mining could endanger global shipping and be hard to find for any demining operation – increasing the risks and potentially the cost of insurance for those navigating the region.
“The series of escalations in the Red Sea will certainly increase the risk profile of the region,” said Ranjith Raja, head of oil and maritime research in the Middle East and North Africa at Refinitiv. “This in turn could also increase insurance premiums for additional protection on vessels operating in the region, which would impact the cost of shipping. ”