Saudi Arabia said Monday two of its oil tankers sabotaged off the United Arab Emirates coast in attacks that caused "significant damage" to the ships, one of which it was about to collect Saudi oil to bring to the United States
Khalid al-Falih's comments arrived as the United States issued a new warning to sailors and the UAE's regional allies condemned the reported sabotage Sunday of four ships offshore in the port of Fujairah. The message came just a few hours after Iranian and Lebanese media stores sent out false reports of explosions in the city's port.
Emirates officials have declined to delve into the nature of the sabotage or say who could have been responsible. The reports, however, as the United States has warned for ships such as "Iran or its proxies" could target shipping in the region and because America is using an aircraft operator and B-52 bombers to the Gulf of Persia to counter alleged threats from Tehran.
Tensions have risen during the year since President Donald Trump drew the United States from the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers in 2015 and restored US sanctions that have pushed Iran's economy into crisis. Last week, Iran warned it would start enrichment of uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal.
In his statement, al-Falih said that the attacks on the two tanks occurred at 6 o'clock on Sunday
"One of the two ships was about to be loaded with Saudi Arabian crude from the port of Ras Tanura, which was to be delivered to the Saudi customers in USA, "said Al-Falih. "The incident did not result in any accidents or oil spills, but caused significant damage to the two ship's structures."
Saudi Arabia did not identify the ships concerned, or said it was suspected of the alleged sabotage.
Underlying regional risks described the Secretary-General of the Six-Nations Gulf Cooperation Council the alleged sabotage as a "serious escalation" in a statement overnight.
"Such irresponsible acts will increase tensions and conflicts in the region and endanger their people," said Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani. Similarly, Bahrain, Egypt and the Yemeni internationally recognized government condemn the alleged sabotage.
A statement Sunday from the UAE's Foreign Ministry laid the ships near the country's territorial waters in Oman Bay, east of Fujairah's port. It said it investigated "in collaboration with local and international bodies." It was said that there was "no damage or death on board the ships" and "no spillage of harmful chemicals or fuel".
The US Navy's 5th fleet overseeing the region did not immediately comment. Emirates officials refused to answer questions from The Associated Press and said their investigation was ongoing.
Earlier Sunday, Lebanon's pro-Iran satellite channel Al-Mayadeen quoted "Gulf sources" incorrectly saying that a series of explosions had hit Fujairah's port. State and semi-official media in Iran picked up the report from Al-Mayadeen, who later published the names of ships it claimed to be involved.
AP spoke after talking to the emirates' officials and local witnesses about the port explosion report being unstable.
Fujairah's port is approximately 140 kilometers south of the Hormuz section, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, through which one-third of all sea-going oil is traded. The plant handles oil for bunkering and shipping, as well as general and bulk cargo. It is considered strategically located, serving shipping lines in the Persian Gulf, India's subcontinent and Africa.
Sunday's event comes after the US Maritime Administration, a division of the US Transport Department, warned Thursday that Iran could target commercial shipping.
"Since the beginning of May, there is an increased possibility that Iran and / or its regional proxies may take action against US and partner interests, including oil production infrastructure, after threatening to close the Hormuz route," the warning read. "Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or US military ships in the Red Sea, the Bab-el-Mandeb route or the Persian Gulf."
Early Sunday, the agency issued a new warning to sailors about the alleged sabotage, while emphasizing that "the event has not been confirmed".
Publicly available satellite images of the area taken Sunday showed no smoke or fire.
It is still unclear whether the previous US Maritime Administration warning is the perceived threat that prompted the White House to order the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier group and the B-52 bombers to the region on May 4.