On Monday, December 14, a tanker discharging cargo at the Saudi port of Jeddah was hit by an explosive-laden boat. The ship, the 76,500 dwt BW Rhine, was carrying about 60,000 tonnes of gasoline when struck and suffered hull damage and a fire. Fortunately none of the 22 crew were injured and they were able to bring the fire under control.
The vessel’s owners, Hafnia Tankers, said in a statement that though it was possible some oil had leaked into the environment because of the attack, sensors on the vessel showed that oil levels on board were as before the incident.
Though no group has claimed responsibility yet it is likely to have been conducted by Yemeni Houthi forces that are engaged in a fierce war with the Saudi’s and their allies. The Houthi’s, who receive support from Iran in the shape of weapons – including sophisticated cruise missiles – are engaged in a campaign targeting Saudi oil infrastructure, which includes maritime asymmetric warfare and has led to a spate of attacks this year.
On November 23 the MT Agrari, a Maltese-flagged tanker was subject to an explosion which has been attributed to a limpet mine, while in April the Abqaiq, carrying around two million tonnes of crude oil, was hit by an unidentified small warhead that caused damage to the ship’s hull above the waterline while under escort.
This latest attack, reportedly using a boat either with a driver as a suicide attack or with remote control, is similar to an attack on the Saudi frigate al-Madinah in January that killed two Saudi sailors.
The Saudi’s accuse Iran of using the Houthi’s as a proxy and of providing them with both supplies and intelligence via ships it operates in the Gulf and the Red Sea that provides targeting information and support for the Yemeni group. The recent commissioning of two new Iranian expeditionary vessels means that if this is true, then shipping lines can expect attacks to continue and possibly increase in the future.