Something alarming is happening to Saudi oil interests. Though this alarm has pushed oil prices higher, and though Saudi Arabia is still the United States’ number one global competitor, recent events warn of what may emerge as the newest threat to global oil and gas interests.
On May, 12th, 2019, four oil tankers including two Saudi vessels were attacked in what is being called an act of “sabotage” in the Gulf of Oman. At least one of those were carrying “supply fuel” to the United States to supply Saudi Aramco clients. The Saudis confirmed to BBC News that each tanker had “sustained significant damage." The other two tankers were under Norwegian and United Arab Emirates flags.
The attacks’ details are still shrouded with little information available about the nature of the “sabotage” or who was behind it… but the speculation as to the “how” and the “who” is compelling. The only source reporting the assumed nature of the sabotage was the marine traffic monitoring site, Vesseltracker.com
According to that site, the four vessels were likely damaged by magnetic mines while moored off the coast of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) port of Fujairah. Their report indicated that the Norwegian tanker Andrea Victory which arrived off shore May 11th “suffered a hole in an aft tank” as did the Saudi tanker "Al Marzoqah.” The second damaged Saudi tanker Al Marzoqah was just 7 miles off shore. The third vessel was the bunkering tanker “A. Michel… flying the flag of the United Arab Emirates, which was [after the attack] listing to starboard and surrounded by an oil boom.”
Saudi Arabia's ministry of energy told CNN Business that the attacks were “particularly alarming because the tankers were targeted outside the Strait of Hormuz” through which 20% of all global oil shipments move. Though Iran denied being responsible, the United States has announced it believes that Iran or an Iranian backed group was responsible for the attack. If indeed these ships hit mines, the implications are dire as at any time, the Gulf of Oman is loaded with over a hundred oil tankers at any one time. Some 100 oil tankers anchor daily off the coast of Fujairah, UAE, where the attack occurred.
The timing of the attacks alone seem to point to Iran as the U.S. has been ramping up pressure on the nation after Iranian officials announced it would resume high level uranium enrichment (potentially weapons grade) within 60 days if, according to NPR, “world powers don't shield it from U.S. sanctions, under the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement.”
Not an Isolated Incident
A day after the attack on the tankers, Saudi Arabia reported a “drone attack” on two of its oil pipeline pumping stations near Riyadh serving their East-West pipeline. A Yemeni terrorist group claimed responsibility which has been linked to Iranian funding and support.
Iran denies any involvement in either attack and has claimed that the U.S. is attempting to “frame them” suggesting that the U.S. itself was responsible, stating that the U.S. may be “dropping bombs to ignite the region.”
Though the Yemeni group carried out the attack on the pumping station, a Persian Gulf expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy was quoted on the website Foreignpolicy.com as doubting that the rebel group had the capability to launch a drone attack without the assistance of a more technologically advanced player, like Iran.
Both attacks did little to stop the flow of supplies, but it is widely assumed they were more intended to rattle markets and send a message to the world. The U.S. is sending its own message. The U.S. has deployed naval forces to the Gulf of Oman as both a show of force and to assist in the protection of shipping interests there. (See story “Tanker Attack Threatens War with Iran”