DUBAI/LONDON • Saudi Arabia said yesterday that two Saudi oil tankers were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, condemning it as an attempt to undermine the security of crude supplies amid heightened US-Iran tensions.
The UAE said on Sunday that four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate, one of the world's largest bunkering hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz, but did not say who was behind the attacks or describe the nature of them.
Iran, embroiled in an escalating war of words with the United States over sanctions and the US military's presence in the region, moved yesterday to distance itself. Its Foreign Ministry called the incidents "worrisome and dreadful", and asked for an investigation into the matter.
A senior Iranian lawmaker said "saboteurs from a third country" could be behind it, after saying on Sunday that the incident showed the security of the Gulf states is fragile.
In a sign of concern about rising tensions, Britain's Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt warned of the risks of "a conflict happening by accident" with an unintended escalation between Washington and Teheran over an unravelling nuclear deal.
A fifth of global oil consumption passes through the Strait of Hormuz from Middle East crude producers to major markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond. Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which has been designated a terrorist organisation by the US, threatened last month to close the choke-point if Teheran is barred from using it.
Oil prices rose yesterday, while stocks in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia fell sharply.
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement that one of the two Saudi vessels attacked was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude from Ras Tanura port for delivery to state-owned Saudi Aramco's customers in the US. The attack did not lead to any casualties or an oil spill but caused significant damage to the vessels' structures, he said.
Intertanko, an association of independent tanker owners and operators, said in a note that it has seen photos showing that "at least two ships have holes in their sides due to the impact of a weapon".
Trading and shipping sources identified the Saudi vessels as Bahri-owned very large crude carrier tanker Amjad and crude tanker Al Marzoqah. Bahri did not respond to a request for comment.
The UAE Foreign Ministry said there were no casualties and the Fujairah port operations were normal.
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry, in a separate statement, voiced support for the UAE, the Middle East's trade and business hub.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have strongly backed US sanctions against fellow oil producer and regional foe Iran. After the US ended all sanction waivers on Iranian crude, Washington said Riyadh and Abu Dhabi would help compensate for any shortage in oil supply.
Mr Falih said the attack aimed to undermine maritime freedom and the security of oil supplies to consumers worldwide.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was cited by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying that the incident "has a negative impact on maritime transportation security", and asked regional countries to be "vigilant against destabilising plots of foreign agents".
Washington said it was sending a US aircraft carrier and other forces to the Middle East due to what it said were Iranian threats, while Teheran has called the US military presence "a target" rather than a threat.