Saudi Arabia claims “sabotage attacks” left two of its oil tankers damaged off the coast of the UAE, not far from the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping channel.Nobody is casting blame yet, but it comes just days after the U.S. warned that “Iran or its proxies” could target commercial vessels in the region.Britain says the incident highlights the danger of “a conflict happening by accident” between the U.S. and Iran.Mike Pompeo was meeting European leaders as they try to keep the nuclear deal viable months after President Trump abandoned it.A U.S. defense official told CBS News that a team of U.S. investigators was on their way to the UAE to help look into the incidents.Saudi Arabia said Monday two of its oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in attacks that caused “significant damage” to the vessels. One of the ships was en route to pick up Saudi oil to take to the United States, a Saudi government minister said.
The announcement by the kingdom’s energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, came on the heels of a new warning to sailors in the region from the U.S. While no blame was cast at Iran or any other nation for the alleged attack on the ships, it fuelled fears that a miscommunication or small act of antagonism in the politically charged region could quickly escalate into a full conflict. Late last week the U.S. Maritime Administration warned commercial shipping companies that from the beginning of May there had been, “an increased possibility that Iran and/or its regional proxies could take action against U.S. and partner interests, including oil production infrastructure, after recently threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or U.S. military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, or the Persian Gulf.” As U.S. bombers arrive, defiant Iran says U.S. “will not dare” attackThe statement from the Saudi government on the alleged “sabotage attacks” off the United Arab Emirates port at Fujairah came just hours after Iranian and Lebanese media outlets aired false reports of explosions at the port, which sits less than 100 miles from the mouth of the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping channel. Emirati officials have declined to elaborate on the nature of the sabotage or say who might have been responsible.
A U.S. defense official told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin that the UAE had requested American assistance investigating the incidents, and the U.S. was sending a team of investigators to help. A total of four tankers sustained some damage on Sunday, according to UAE officials. One of the others was Norwegian owned, but officials in that country did not immediately confirm any links to the apparent attacks on the Saudi-flagged vessels.Early Sunday, the U.S. Maritime Administration issued a new warning to sailors about the alleged sabotage, while stressing “the incident has not been confirmed.” It urged shippers to exercise caution in the area for the next week.It remains unclear if the previous warning from the U.S. agency is the same perceived threat, or part of it, that prompted the White House to order the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and the B-52 bombers to the region on May 4.”One of the two vessels was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude oil from the port of Ras Tanura, to be delivered to Saudi Aramco’s customers in the United States,” al-Falih said. “Fortunately, the attack didn’t lead to any casualties or oil spill; however, it caused significant damage to the structures of the two vessels.”Saudi Arabia did not identify the vessels involved, nor did it say whom it suspected of carrying out the alleged sabotage.The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which oversees the region, did not immediately offer comment. Emirati officials declined to answer questions from The Associated Press, saying their investigation is ongoing.