Saudi Arabia said on Monday that two Saudi oil tankers were among vessels targeted by a “sabotage attack” off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, condemning it as an attempt to undermine the security of global crude supplies.
The UAE said on Sunday that four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz. It did not say who was behind the operation, which took place amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran.
Iran’s foreign ministry called the incidents “worrisome and dreadful” and asked for an investigation into the matter.
The strait, a vital global oil and gas shipping route, separates the Gulf states and Iran, which has been embroiled in an escalating war of words with the United States over sanctions and the U.S. military’s presence in the region.
Meanwhile, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards are “highly likely” to have facilitated attacks last Sunday on four tankers including two Saudi ships off Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, according to a Norwegian insurers’ report seen by Reuters.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Norway are investigating the attacks, which also hit a UAE- and a Norwegian-flagged vessel.
A confidential assessment issued this week by the Norwegian Shipowners’ Mutual War Risks Insurance Association, or DNK, concluded that the attack was likely to have been carried out by a surface vessel operating close by that dispatched underwater drones carrying 65-110 pounds of high-grade explosives to detonate on impact.
The attacks took place against a backdrop of U.S.-Iranian tension following Washington’s decision this month to try to cut Tehran’s oil exports to zero and beef up its military presence in the Gulf in response to what it called Iranian threats.
The DNK based its assessment that the IRGC was likely to have orchestrated the attacks on a number of factors, including:
• A high likelihood that the IRGC had previously supplied its allies, the Houthi militia fighting a Saudi-backed government in Yemen, with explosive-laden surface drone boats capable of homing in on GPS navigational positions for accuracy.
• The similarity of shrapnel found on the Norwegian tanker to shrapnel from drone boats used off Yemen by Houthis, even though the craft previously used by the Houthis were surface boats rather than the underwater drones likely to have been deployed in Fujairah.