Saboteurs attack Saudi oil vessels amid Middle East tensions


Iran, embroiled in an escalating war of words with the United States over sanctions and the USA military presence in the region, moved to distance itself on Monday.

At a White House press conference alongside Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Trump offered his first remarks on Iran after up to four tankers-of which two are believed to be Saudi and one Norwegian-were damaged Sunday in what Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates described as "sabotage" acts off the coast of the UAE's Fujairah Emirate in the Sea of Oman.

"Saudi reticence to report the incident accurately within their own media channels and the current failure to provide imagery evidence of the attack raises important questions as to the nature of the attack", said maritime security company Dryad Global in a note to clients.

The owner of the Norwegian vessel, Thome Ship Management, said the vessel was "struck by an unknown object". A second has been surrounded by a boom as a precaution to contain any oil leak.

U.S. President Donald Trump's government has been ratcheting up pressure on Iran with sanctions since Washington withdrew a year ago from a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

The bottom line is that oil markets are tight enough that such an incident - which won't have a significant effect on supply - rattled traders.

Oil futures rose on Monday on increasing concerns about supply disruptions in the Middle East even as investors and traders fretted over global economic growth prospects amid a standoff in the Sino-U.S. trade talks. The United States said the Vincennes was in the area to protect neutral vessels against Iranian navy attacks.

It reported that the other vessels targeted were from Norway and the UAE.

Meanwhile, the US embassy in Iraq again warned Americans not to travel to that country amid unspecified threats from Iran.

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What is the Strait of Hormuz? No details, however, about the specifics of the damage were released.

The Strait of Hormuz connects the Gulf to the Indian Ocean.

The foreign ministry called the incidents "worrisome and dreadful" and asked for an investigation into the matter.

Only one Indian buyer of Iranian oil has taken up Saudi Arabia's offer of additional oil to make up for the loss of supplies from Tehran due to USA sanctions, taking an extra 2 million barrels from the Kingdom for June shipment, industry sources said.

The Saudi-flagged oil tanker Al Marzoqah.

- "While the presence of the US Fifth Fleet should ensure that the critical waterway remains open, provocative Iranian military manoeuvres are likely in the immediate offing as is a nuclear restart", analysts at bank RBC wrote on 22 April. He urged the worldwide community to ensure the security of oil tankers "to mitigate against the adverse consequences of such incidents on energy markets, and the danger they pose to the global economy".

Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Khalid Al-Falih said on Monday the attack "aims to undermine the freedom of maritime navigation, and the security of oil supplies to consumers all over the world". Saudi Arabia is Iran's regional rival.

Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz - a major oil-shipping route - and disrupt crude shipments from neighbouring countries if Washington succeeds in forcing all countries to stop buying Iranian oil.

In additional comments Monday, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the "acts of sabotage" and expressed solidarity with the UAE, the Saudi Press Agency reported, citing an official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.