Monday, 27 May, 2019

Trump warns Iran after vessels sabotaged off coast of UAE

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Jean Garcia | 14 May, 2019, 06:44

Saudi Arabia, which owns two of the damaged vessels, has not assigned blame for the attacks on Sunday close to the Strait of Hormuz, between Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

Earlier this month, the Maritime Administration said US commercial ships including oil tankers sailing through Middle East waterways could be targeted by Iran in one of the threats to USA interests posed by Tehran.

The announcement by the kingdom's energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, came as the US issued a new warning to sailors and the UAE's regional allies condemned Sunday's incident that targeted at least four ships, including two Saudi tankers, off the port city of Fujairah.

The United Arab Emirates foreign ministry on Sunday reported that four commercial ships were attacked by an unknown adversary.

Two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian-flagged vessel were damaged in what Gulf officials described as a "sabotage" attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

The Saudi vessels were identified as the VLCC tanker Amjad and crude tanker Al Marzoqah, both owned by Bahri.

- Most crude exported from Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Kuwait and Iraq - all members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) - is shipped through the waterway.

Two Saudi oil tankers were reportedly hit with explosions over the weekend near the Strait of Hormuz, according to Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih.

The minister's statement stressed the responsibility of the worldwide community to "protect the safety of maritime navigation and the security of oil tankers, to mitigate against the adverse consequences of such incidents on energy markets, and the danger they pose to the global economy". "They know what I mean by that", he continued.

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"Such incidents have negative impact on maritime transportation security", a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry said, before adding everyone should be "vigilant against destabilizing plots of foreign agents".

In recent weeks, the stretch of water off the Oman coast has become a flashpoint in heightened tensions between the United States and Iran that have threatened to boil over since President Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions which have crippled the Iranian economy. Vessel-tracking shows 102 ships are now at anchor or in the waters just off Fujairah, also raising security issues for the world's biggest bunkering port and hampering the clear identification of ships involved.

The price of oil has recently been rising following news of the US' increased push to curb Iran's oil trade and Washington's sanctions against another oil-exporting country - Venezuela, sparking fears of a shortage in crude supply.

The risk of a military conflict is real, which would, in turn, put pressure on India's oil imports, since the Gulf is India's main supplier of energy.

Monday's developments came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled a planned visit to Moscow on Monday and flew to Brussels for talks on Iran with his counterparts from the UK, Germany and France.

Mousavi called for regional states to take action against "any adventurism by foreign elements".

Meanwhile, the Gulf Cooperation Council on Sunday termed the attack on the four commercial vessels as "dangerous escalation (that) speaks of the evil intentions", reported CNN.

Fujairah port is the only Emirati terminal located on the Arabian Sea coast, bypassing the Strait of Hormuz, through which most Gulf oil exports pass.

- In January 2012, Iran threatened to block the Strait in retaliation for the USA and European sanctions that targeted its oil revenues in an attempt to stop Tehran's nuclear programme.

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