Explosion aboard an oil tanker off Saudi Arabia

An undetermined explosion hit an oil tanker off the Saudi city of Jeddah on Monday, the ship‘s Singaporean shipowner said, in what appears to be one of the latest attacks on the kingdoms energy infrastructure.

In recent months, Houthis rebels in neighbouring Yemen have intensified attacks on Saudi Arabia in retaliation for Saudi Arabia‘s military campaign in support of the Yemeni government.

The oil tanker โ€œBW Rhine was hit by an external source while unloading in Jeddahโ€ in the western part of the kingdom, Singapore shipowner Hafnia said in a statement. He did not explain what this โ€œexternal sourceโ€ is.

โ€œThe crew controlled the fire with the help of firefighters and none of the 22 sailors were injured,โ€ according to the same source.

Saudi authorities have not immediately confirmed the explosion off Jeddah, a key port on the Red Sea and distribution centre for Saudi oil giant Aramco.

Hafnia reported โ€œhull damageโ€ related to the pre-dawn explosion, and did not rule out the possibility of oil leakage.

โ€œIt is possible that oil has escaped from the boat, but this has not yet been confirmed,โ€ said the shipowner.

Dryad Global, a London-based marine monitoring company, reported the explosion hitting an oil tanker โ€œat the port’s main anchorageโ€, but identified a Dominican tanker or Saudi ship as possible targets.

The United Kingdom Office for Maritime Commercial Operations (UKMTO) reported that it was aware of the explosion and urged ships in the area to exercise โ€œextreme vigilanceโ€.

Series of Attacks

Several attacks on Saudi energy sites have recently been reported, highlighting the vulnerability of the kingdom‘s oil infrastructure.

Last month, Yemeni Houthis rebels claimed to hit a factory operated by Aramco in Jeddah with a missile. Aramco then indicated that the strike had pierced an oil tank, triggering an explosion and a fire.

A few days later, an explosion hit an oil tanker flying Maltese flag at the Saudi port of Al-Shuqaiq (south), an attack attributed by Saudi Arabia to the Houthis.

Both attacks did not result in casualties.

Saudi Arabia has been targeted by dozens of ballistic missile and drone attacks launched by the Houthis since early 2019 but claims to have intercepted most of them.

The world’s largest exporter of crude oil, the kingdom has led a military coalition since 2015 to support the government of Yemen at war against rebels, backed by Iran, the Saudi kingdom‘s main rival.

The Houthis took the capital Sana’a in 2014 and now control much of northern Yemen.

Ryadh has repeatedly accused Tehran of supplying sophisticated weapons to the Houthis, which Iran denies.

The war in Yemen has caused tens of thousands of deaths, mostly civilians, according to NGOs and has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, according to the United Nations.