‘External source’ causes oil tanker blast off Saudi Arabia

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) — An oil tanker off Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jeddah suffered an explosion early yesterday after being hit by “an external source”, a shipping company said, suggesting another vessel has come under attack off the kingdom amid its yearslong war in Yemen.

The apparent attack on the Singapore-flagged BW Rhine, which had been contracted by the trading arm of the kingdom’s massive Saudi Arabian Oil Co, marks the fourth assault targetting Saudi energy infrastructure in a month.

It also renews concerns about ship safety in the Red Sea, a crucial transit zone for global shipping and energy supplies that largely had avoided the chaos of regional tensions involving the United States (US) and Iran last year.

The BW Rhine had berthed at Jeddah on Saturday, carrying over 60,000 metric tonnes of unleaded gasoline from an Aramco refinery at Yanbu for consumption in the kingdom, according to the data-analysis firm Refinitiv. It was there that the incident appears to have occured.

The ship was “been hit from an external source whilst discharging”, said Haifna, a tanker company under the BW Group that owns and operates the ship.

The strike caused an explosion and fire onboard the ship, though all 22 sailors on board escaped without injury and firefighters later extinguished the blaze, Haifna said. Some oil may have polluted the water along the ship, though the company said it was still assessing the damage.

Saudi Arabia had not acknowledged the blast hours later. The United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations, an organisation under Britain’s royal navy, urged ships in the area to exercise caution and said investigations were ongoing. Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, also reported the blast. The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the Mideast, did not respond to a request for comment.

No one immediately offered a cause for the incident.

Seagulls fly in front of the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on October 11, 2019. An explosion rocked a ship off Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jeddah on the Red Sea, authorities said yesterday without elaborating. PHOTO: AP