Saudi Arabia urges action to protect energy supplies

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister has called for a decisive response to the threat to global energy supplies by terrorist acts in and around the Gulf following explosions on two oil tankers this week.

“There must be a rapid and decisive response to the threat of energy supplies, market stability and consumer confidence,” said Khalid al-Falih, Saudi energy minister, at a meeting of G20 ministers in Japan, according to a tweet posted on Saturday by the kingdom’s energy ministry.

Attacks against two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, as well as the sabotage of four tankers off the UAE last month and a drone strike on a Saudi pipeline, has elevated concern about the vulnerability of energy supplies around the oil choke point of the Strait of Hormuz and ramped up US-Iranian tension.

US president Donald Trump on Friday said there was no doubt that Iran was responsible for the attacks, escalating the war of words between Washington and Tehran.

The Pentagon has released a video that the US claims shows an Iranian naval vessel recovering a limpet mine from one of the tankers.

Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, has rejected accusations that his country carried out the attack, describing the US as “a serious threat to the stability of the region”.

The US has led a campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran, tightening sanctions since withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear pact with the Islamic republic. Washington has strengthened its military presence in the Gulf with the deployment of an aircraft carrier, bombers and 1,500 extra troops.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Iran’s regional rivals, have welcomed US assistance in seeking to contain Iranian interference, but have fallen short of publicly naming the Islamic republic as the culprit behind the recent assaults on oil infrastructure.

Oman tanker attacks map

Officials from other powers, such as Germany and Russia, have cautioned against rushing to blame Iran in the absence of clear evidence.

A UAE investigation into the sabotage of four tankers off the coast of Fujairah last month only went as far as blaming a state actor for the incident.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s foreign minister, on Saturday called on friendly nations to help the Gulf state confront “fascist regimes that seek to destroy the region through peaceful means.”

“We want the flow of said resources to remain safe, and to ensure the stability of the global economy,” he said at a press conference in Bulgaria, in comments carried by the official UAE news agency.

“This was a real threat to global maritime shipping,” he added, referring to May attack.

Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous, the two tankers struck on Thursday, appear to be heading to the UAE port of Fujairah, according to shipping tracking websites.

Iranian vessels had originally prevented salvage vessels from tugging the Norwegian-owned Front Altair from its original position, but those restrictions have now been lifted, according to one person briefed on the operation.

After the explosion, the tanker’s 23-strong crew were rescued from lifeboats by a nearby vessel, but were then told to transfer to an Iranian naval ship and taken to an Iranian port, the person said.

“The Marshall Islands-flagged ship was in international waters, and so the question is on what grounds there should be this interference,” the person said.

The vessel’s owner confirmed that Front Altair is safely under tow away from Iranian waters and a team of specialists would later on Saturday embark to carry out a full assessment of the damage.

The crew remain safe and well, with plans being made for their repatriation “soonest”, the owner added.

Additional reporting by David Sheppard in London


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