Wednesday 16 October 2019

Iranian tanker 'struck by missiles'

Price of oil jumps as ship in Red Sea reportedly damaged off Saudi Arabia's coast

Hit: A photo released by the Iranian Oil Ministry shows oil tanker Sabiti travelling through the Red Sea yesterday. Photo:SHANA via AP
Hit: A photo released by the Iranian Oil Ministry shows oil tanker Sabiti travelling through the Red Sea yesterday. Photo:SHANA via AP

Parisa Hafezi and Sylvia Westall

An Iranian-owned oil tanker was struck, probably by missiles, in the Red Sea off Saudi Arabia's coast, Iranian media said, an incident that if confirmed will stoke tension in a region rattled by attacks on tankers and oil sites since May.

The Sabiti was hit yesterday morning about 96km from the Saudi port of Jeddah, Iranian media reported. The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) said the ship was damaged but stable and denied reports it had been set ablaze.

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The incident, which has yet to be independently confirmed, is the latest involving oil tankers in the Red Sea and Gulf area, and is likely to ratchet up tensions between Tehran and Riyadh, long-time regional foes that have been fighting a proxy war in Yemen, which lies at the southern end of the Red Sea.

Reports of the incident, which have so far only come from Iranian sources, offered sometimes diverging accounts.

State television, citing the national oil company, said it was hit by missiles while denying a report they came from Saudi Arabia.

NITC said "the blasts were probably caused by missile strikes" and said it was investigating the source, adding that the crew were safe. Iran's Foreign Ministry said the ship was struck twice, without saying what had hit the vessel.

State television broadcast images from the deck of the ship saying they were taken after the attack, but they showed no visible damage. The sides of the hull were not in frame.

The Red Sea is a major global shipping route for oil and other trade, linking the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.

Crude prices jumped on the news and industry sources said it could drive up already high shipping costs.

There was no claim of responsibility for the reported incident, which follows attacks on tankers in the Gulf in May and June, as well as strikes on Saudi oil sites in September.

The United States, embroiled in a row with Tehran over its nuclear plans, has blamed Iran for those incidents.

Tehran has denied having a role in any of the attacks since May.

Saudi Arabia had no immediate comment on yesterday's reports.

The US Navy's Fifth Fleet, which operates in the region, said it was aware of the reports but had no further information.

NIOC named the ship as the Sabiti, a Suezmax vessel, after initial reports said it was the Sinopa.

Refinitiv ship tracking data showed the Sabiti in the Red Sea and heading south under its own power, bound for Larak, off Iran's southern Gulf coast.

The data put the vessel's draft, or how deeply it sits in the water, at 53pc, indicating it is not fully loaded.

Tensions with the United States have been running high since Washington withdrew from a deal between world powers and Iran that aimed to rein in Tehran's nuclear ambitions. US sanctions have slashed Iranian oil exports, on which Tehran relies.

Russia said it was too early to assign blame for the tanker explosion. China, the top buyer of Iranian oil, said it hoped all parties would work to uphold peace and stability in the region.

Iran's ISNA news agency had earlier cited a source saying the Iranian tanker was struck in a "terrorist" attack.

Irish Independent

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