Saudi oil pumping stations hit by drones, Riyadh says

Oil prices spike on news of attack, coming two days after tankers sabotaged off UAE

RIYADH/DUBAI • Saudi Arabia said armed drones struck two oil pumping stations in the kingdom yesterday in what it called a "cowardly" act of terrorism, two days after its oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

The energy minister of the world's largest oil exporter said the attack caused a fire, now contained, and minor damage at one pump station, but did not disrupt oil production or exports of crude and petroleum products.

Oil prices spiked on news of the attack on the stations, more than 320km west of Riyadh. Brent crude futures rose 1.38 per cent to trade at US$71.20 by 1114 GMT.

Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, in comments run by state media, said the drone attack and Sunday's sabotage of four vessels, including two Saudi tankers, off Fujairah emirate, a major bunkering hub, threatened global oil supplies.

"These attacks prove again that it is important for us to face terrorist entities, including the Houthi militias in Yemen that are backed by Iran," Mr Falih said in an English-language statement.

Houthi-run Masirah TV earlier said the group had launched drone attacks on "vital" Saudi installations in response to "continued aggression and blockade" on Yemen.

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis for four years in the Arabian Peninsula country to try to restore the internationally recognised government, in a conflict widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Houthis have repeatedly launched drone and missile attacks on Saudi cities, but two Saudi sources told Reuters this was the first time an Aramco facility had been hit by drones.

State-run oil company Aramco said it had temporarily shut down the East-West pipeline, known as Petroline, to evaluate its condition. The pipeline mainly transports crude from the kingdom's eastern fields to Yanbu port, which lies north of Bab al-Mandeb.

The attacks come amid a war of words between Washington and Teheran over sanctions and US military presence in the region.

The UAE has not revealed details about the nature of the attack on ships near Fujairah, lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz, or blamed any party or country.

Iran was a prime suspect in the sabotage on Sunday although Washington had no conclusive proof, a US official familiar with American intelligence said on Monday.

Iran has denied any involvement and described the attack on the four commercial vessels as "worrisome and dreadful". It has called for an investigation.

The US ambassador to Saudi Arabia said the US should take what he called "reasonable responses short of war" after it had determined who was behind the attacks. "We need to do a thorough investigation to understand what happened, why it happened, and then come up with reasonable responses short of war," Ambassador John Abizaid said, in remarks published yesterday. "It's not in (Iran's) interest, it's not in our interest, it's not in Saudi Arabia's interest to have a conflict."

The US has raised sanctions on Teheran, saying it wants to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2019, with the headline 'Saudi oil pumping stations hit by drones, Riyadh says'. Print Edition | Subscribe