Oil Tanker Owner Says Ship Attacked in Saudi Arabian Red Sea

An oil tanker was damaged in a possible attack at a Saudi Arabian terminal on the Red Sea, just two days after a missile strike on a fuel depot in the country’s second-biggest city.

The Agrari, a so-called Aframax-class vessel able to haul about 700,000 barrels of oil, was punctured about 1 meter (3 feet) above the waterline, according to a statement issued Wednesday on behalf of the owner. The “attack” took place as the ship was preparing to leave a berth at the Shuqaiq facility, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) north of the country’s border with Yemen, after unloading its cargo, according to the statement.

No one claimed responsibility. A few hours after the incident, state TV reported that that a commercial vessel suffered “minor damage” from the shrapnel of a “booby-trapped boat” that Saudi forces destroyed. The forces were “thwarting a terrorist act targeting navigation in the southern Red Sea,” according to the report.

There was no confirmation the two incidents were connected.

Oil Tanker Owner Says Ship Attacked in Saudi Arabian Red Sea

Shuqaiq isn’t an oil-exporting facility, and the incident probably won’t affect Saudi Arabia’s capacity to produce or export crude. Brent crude was trading 0.3% lower at $48.48 a barrel on Thursday morning, paring this month’s gain to 29%.

The Agrari’s puncturing followed a separate attack on Monday in which Yemen’s Houthi rebels fired a missile at a Saudi Aramco fuel depot farther up the Red Sea coast in Jeddah. The strike caused no casualties, and the resulting blaze was extinguished in 40 minutes, according to Aramco.

Houthi officials didn’t say they were involved in Wednesday’s incident and offered no explanation for what might have happened. The rebels, who are supported by Iran in Yemen’s civil war, claimed the Jeddah attack.

The Houthis have been fighting Yemen’s United Nations-backed government since 2015, the same year a Saudi-led coalition intervened to roll back the rebels’ gains. The Houthis frequently fire missiles into Saudi Arabia, some of which are intercepted.

The group claimed responsibility for attacks in September 2019 on Aramco’s Abqaiq oil-processing plant and Khurais field that temporarily knocked out about half of the kingdom’s oil-production capacity and caused crude prices to soar.

“There’s definitely an uptick of attacks from the Yemen side of the border on Saudi Arabia to try to send a signal that it’s not just in the Strait of Hormuz and in the Persian Gulf that Iran has the ability to undermine Saudi oil interests and naval activities,” said Ayham Kamel, head of Middle East and North Africa at Eurasia Group, which advises clients on political risk.

The Agrari appears to have been delivering fuel oil from Europe, according to shipping data compiled by Bloomberg. Crew on the Agrari are safe, no pollution has been reported, and the tanker itself is stable, according to the statement, which was distributed by MTI Network for TMS Tankers Ltd.

Ongoing Tension

War-risk premiums to insure vessels going into the Red Sea -- a major conduit for oil shipments -- are expected to rise in the near-term as a result of recent attacks, but trade flows are unlikely to be affected, said Rahul Kapoor, global head of maritime analytics and research at IHS Markit.

On Tuesday, the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis said they destroyed five of the rebels’ mines in the Red Sea, according to Saudi state-run Al-Ekhbariya TV. The mines were Iranian-made, the coalition report said.

The Agrari, meanwhile, has been boarded by local authorities, including the Coast Guard, and an investigation is underway.

“At this stage we don’t know if this is a case of a sea-mine striking the vessel or whether this is a direct attack,” said Munro Anderson, a partner at maritime-security firm Dryad Global, adding that old mines are still present in the Red Sea. The latest event is “well within” expected risk levels for the region where it happened, he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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