May 15, 2019
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Four oil tankers anchored in the Mideast were damaged by what Gulf officials described as sabotage, though satellite images obtained by The Associated Press (AP) on Tuesday showed no major visible damage to the vessels.
Details of the alleged sabotage to two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati oil tanker on Sunday remained unclear, and Gulf officials have declined to say who they suspected was responsible. But it demonstrated the raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies as tensions are increasing between the US and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
The US has warned sailors of the potential for attacks on commercial sea traffic, and regional allies of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) condemned the alleged sabotage as the tankers were off the coast of the UAE port city of Fujairah.
A US official in Washington, without offering any evidence, told the AP that an American military team’s initial assessment indicated Iran or Iranian allies used explosives to blow holes in the ships. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation, agreed to reveal the findings only if not quoted by name. The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the Mideast and operates from a base in Fujairah, has repeatedly declined to comment.
The US already had 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.
Citing heightened tensions in the region, the United Nations (UN) called on “all concerned parties to exercise restraint for the sake of regional peace, including by ensuring maritime security” and freedom of navigation, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
The scale of the alleged sabotage also remained unclear. A statement from Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said two of the kingdom’s oil tankers, including one due to later carry crude to the US, 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.
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