Iranian claims oil tanker hit off coast of Saudi Arabia

Iran claimed yesterday that one of its oil tankers had been struck with missiles off the coast of Saudi Arabia, however the incident was shrouded in mystery. Iranian media claimed the vessel was hit on Friday morning about 60 miles from the Saudi port of Jeddah, causing it to leak oil into the Red Sea. The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) said the ship was damaged but stable and denied reports it had been set ablaze. Tensions have been high since the Spring after an Iranian tanker suspected of carrying crude to Syria in violation of EU sanctions was seized off Gibraltar. In retaliation, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard impounded British-flagged tanker Stena Impero. Then last month Saudi’s oil fields were hit by a large-scale missile and drone attack it blamed on Tehran, which saw production plummet and oil prices soar. Iran’s foreign ministry claimed the vessel, which was first named as Sinopa before it was identified as the Sabiti, had been “targeted twice” but did not provide further details. On Friday morning, an unnamed source told Iran media the vessel was struck by missiles “probably” originating from Saudi Arabia, but Iran’s national oil company later denied the claim. Iranian tanker attack Pictures released on Iranian media later showed no discernible damage and no evidence of any fire. TankerTrackers, which monitors oil exports, told the Telegraph there was no independent evidence to suggest the vessel had been hit. “Had she been struck, they wouldn’t be sailing back as fast as they are sailing right now. She’s moving at 10 knots an hour,” they said. “(Iran is) fishing for higher prices, trying to remind the world that geopolitical risk is its way of controlling the oil market.” Oil prices surged two per cent on the news. Publicly-available ship tracking records show both ships are currently in the Red Sea. The Sinopa turned its transmitter on earlier this week for the first time in more than 50 days. The Sabiti, meanwhile, turned its tracker on early Friday after nearly 60 days of no transmissions. It is common for Iranian tankers to turn off automatic identification systems (AIS) to avoid detection – often to evade international sanctions or harassment from Saudi Arabia. TankerTrackers said this suggested the Sabiti, laden with one million barrels of oil may have been heading for Syria. However, it declared the Gulf as its destination. Thina Margrethe Saltvedt, an analyst at Nordea Markets, said it was not the particulars of the latest incident that were worrying traders but the fear of worse to come. “The risk premium is rising… not because the tanker per se contains enough oil to squeeze the market,” she said. “But the risk that this incident will be retaliated or more attacks would come either in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Iraq.”

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