Iranian oil tanker hit by suspected missile strikes off Saudi coast

TEHERAN • Suspected missile stri-kes hit an Iranian oil tanker off the Saudi coast yesterday, its owner said, the first Iranian vessel targeted since a spate of attacks in the Gulf that Washington blamed on Teheran.

The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), which owns the ship, said the hull of the Sabiti was hit by two separate explosions off the Saudi port of Jeddah, saying that they were "probably caused by missile strikes".

The blasts come just weeks after two of Saudi Arabia's biggest oil installations were hit, wiping out 5 per cent of global production.

The International Energy Agency warned against market complacency after the attack, noting that a quick recovery of output had already seen prices recover from last month's attacks.

"All the ship's crew are safe, and the ship is stable too," NITC said, adding those on board were trying to repair the damage.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said the tanker was attacked "from a location close to the corridor it was passing, east of the Red Sea", stopping short of naming Saudi Arabia.

Oil was leaking from the tanker into the Red Sea.

"The responsibility of this incident, including the serious envi-ronmental pollution, falls on the perpetrators of this reckless act," said ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, adding that investigations are continuing.

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According to ship-tracking service TankerTrackers, the Sabiti is fully laden with one million barrels of oil, and has declared the Gulf as its destination.

Iranian state television said the blasts could have been the result of a terrorist attack. Pictures from television showed the ship's deck, but there were no outward signs of any damage.

The strikes come after a spate of still unexplained attacks on shipping in and around the vital seaway to the Gulf involving Iran and Western powers.

Washington accused Teheran of attacking vessels with mines, something it has strongly denied.

There have also been seizures of both Iranian and Western-flagged vessels and twin attacks claimed by Yemeni rebels allied with Iran on key Saudi oil infrastructure.

Both Washington and Riyadh have blamed Teheran for the attacks on Saudi oil facilities, though Iran again denies being involved.

The United States has since formed a naval coalition to escort commercial vessels through the strategic Strait of Hormuz. It has been joined by Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the Uni-ted Arab Emirates.

Yesterday's incident is the first involving an Iranian ship since the "Happiness 1" broke down at about the same location in early May. That ship was repaired in Saudi Arabia and held in the kingdom until July 21, when it was released.

The rare docking came despite escalating tensions between staunch enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia.

China, whose oil supply is reliant on the Gulf, called on all parties to "exercise restraint" in the "highly complex and sensitive" situation.

Iran has been locked in a stand-off with the US and its Gulf Arab allies since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal that gave it relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

 
 
 

The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero arrived in Dubai late last month, after being detained with its crew in Iran for more than two months.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized the vessel in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19, and then impounded it off the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas for allegedly failing to respond to distress calls and turning off its transponder after hitting a fishing boat.

The seizure was widely seen as a tit-for-tat move after the authorities in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar detained an Iranian tanker on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. Teheran has repeatedly said the cases were related.

At the height of the crisis, Mr Trump ordered retaliatory strikes against Iran after the Islamic republic downed a US drone, but called them off at the last minute.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2019, with the headline 'Iranian oil tanker hit by suspected missile strikes off Saudi coast'. Print Edition | Subscribe