Maritime safety must be upheld in the region

In the wake of tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman, an international solution is needed

A picture obtained by AFP from Iranian News Agency ISNA on June 13, 2019 reportedly shows fire and smoke billowing from a tanker said to have been attacked in the waters of the Gulf of Oman. Suspected attacks left two tankers in flames in the waters of the Gulf of Oman today, sending world oil prices soaring as Iran helped rescue stricken crew members. The mystery incident, the second involving shipping in the strategic sea lane in only a few weeks, came amid spiralling tensions between Tehran and Washington, which has pointed the finger at Iran over earlier tanker attacks in May.
 / AFP / ISNA / -
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This week, an unclaimed attack targeted two tanker ships  in the Gulf of Oman, just one month after a sabotage attack struck four vessels off the coast of Fujairah. Although investigations are still ongoing, tensions are clearly mounting.

Much remains to be discovered about what happened in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday. What is beyond doubt is that the attacks on the Norwegian tanker Front Altair and the Japanese Kokuka Courageous put the lives of innocent crew members who were doing nothing more than their jobs at grave risk. Recently released US military video footage has been cited as evidence of Iranian involvement. The British Foreign Office has also stated it is "almost certain" that Iran is behind the attack.

That Iran's minister of foreign affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif promoted a wild false-flag theory in the immediate wake of the attacks, shows that Tehran refuses to treat recent developments with the respect and gravity they deserve. In a measured, carefully worded response to Mr Zarif's statement, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash has called for calm stating that "de-escalation" of the "current situation requires wise actions not empty words".

Mr Zarif's stance is an attempt to sow distrust and undermine a collective response to a very real threat to maritime safety in the region. The international community should not be dissuaded from considering a joint effort that ensures the safety of vessels travelling in the area. There is precedent for increased security measures on this particular stretch of water. During the "tanker war" of the 1980s, Iran and Iraq both pursued campaigns of aggression against each other's commercial vessels and oil tankers. Between 1987 and 1988, however, US Operation Earnest Will aimed to protect Kuwaiti-owned ships traversing the strait. More recently, the Combined Task Force 150, a 25-nation-strong naval initiative, has succeeded in fending off Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. While maritime transportation has evolved since then, these historical examples could still inspire viable solutions today. Incorporating cutting edge technology, a system of escorts and surveillance could be set in place to provide confidence for transport through these key waterways that account for 30 per cent of all seaborne-traded oil and other liquids.

First and foremost, however, it is crucial that the present situation is taken seriously by all sides, and that cool heads prevail. A policy of objectivity and de-escalation, which the UAE has pursued from the beginning, must be prioritised for the sake of us all.