Saudi Arabia has called for “rapid and decisive” action to secure Gulf energy supplies, after the United States blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in a vital oil shipping route that have raised fears of broader confrontation in the region.
Thursday’s tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman exacerbated the antagonistic fallout from similar blasts in May that crippled four vessels.
Washington, already embroiled in a standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, has blamed Tehran.
Iran has denied any role in the strikes on the tankers south of the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit route for oil from Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, and other Gulf producers.
Crew members of the Norwegian-owned Front Altair tanker landed on Saturday in Dubai after two days in Iran.
The mariners’ recollection and the physical evidence remaining on the Front Altair and the other tanker damaged in the attack — the Kokuka Courageous, which is now off the coast of Fujairah — will play an important role in determining who the international community blames for Thursday’s explosions on board the oil tankers.
Iran previously used mines against oil tankers in 1987 and 1988 in the “Tanker War”, which saw the US Navy escort ships through the region — something American officials may consider doing again.
All this comes after four other oil tankers off Fujairah suffered similar attacks in recent weeks, and Iranian-allied rebels from Yemen have struck US ally Saudi Arabia with drones and missiles.
Britain accused of ‘blindly’ following US
Iran has summoned the British ambassador after London agreed with the US conclusion that Iran attacked the tankers.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that Iranian diplomat Mahmoud Barimani met with British ambassador Robert Macaire to protest Britain “blindly and hastily following” the US in accusing Iran.
Iranian also reportedly sought a “correction” on Britain’s stance.
The British Foreign Office on Friday said in a statement that it concluded “it is almost certain that a branch of the Iranian military” attacked the tankers.
Saudis want ‘rapid and decisive response’
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said “there must be a rapid and decisive response to the threat” to energy supplies, market stability and consumer confidence, the Saudi Energy Ministry tweeted.
“The kingdom is committed to ensuring stability of global oil markets,” the Saudi Energy Minister said in Japan at a meeting of energy ministers from the G20 group of nations.
The US military released a video on Thursday, saying it showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were behind the explosions that damaged the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous.
Oil prices have climbed 3.4 per cent since Thursday’s attacks. Ship insurers said insurance costs for ships sailing through the Middle East have jumped by at least 10 per cent.
The suspected attacks occurred at dawn Thursday about 40 kilometres off the southern coast of Iran.
The Front Altair, loaded with naphtha from the United Arab Emirates, radioed for help as its cargo of flammable chemicals caught fire.
The Kokuka Courageous, carrying methanol from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, called for help a short time later.
Drone attacks on Saudi airports
Meanwhile, Yemen’s Houthi movement launched fresh drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia’s Jizan and Abha airports, the group’s Al-Masirah TV said on Saturday, adding the installations were out of service.
Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV said Saudi forces had intercepted a ballistic missile targeting the south-western city of Abha.
The Iran-aligned group said multiple drone strikes targeted control rooms at Jizan airport and a fuel station at Abha airport.
“The two airports are now out of service. We promise the Saudi regime with more painful days as long as the aggression and siege continue on our country,” the group’s armed forces spokesman said in a tweet published by Al-Masirah TV’s account.