Saudi Arabia has temporarily halted all oil shipments through the strategic Red Sea shipping lane of Bab Al Mandeb after Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked two big oil tankers.
“All shipments through Bab Al Mandab Straight have been suspended temporarily until the situation becomes clearer and the maritime transit through the area is safe,” Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih said.
Two oil tankers operated by the Saudi shipping group Bahri, each with a two-million-barrel capacity, were attacked by the Iran-backed Houthis in the Red Sea, state giant Aramco said in a statement.
"One of the ships sustained minimal damage. No injuries nor oil spill have been reported.”
Aramco said that the decision to suspend shipments was “in the interest of the safety of ships and their crews and to avoid the risk of oil spill”.
Kuwait was studying whether to halt oil exports through the strait on Thursday, an oil official said.
"All options are possible but there is nothing confirmed so far," Badr Al Khashti, chairman of Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC), told Reuters, adding no decision had been taken.
The Arab coalition, which includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE, fighting the rebels in Yemen has repeatedly raised the alarm that the Houthis threaten vessels in the Red Sea — a key shipping route for world trade — through their control of the strategic Hodeidah port.
The Bab Al Mandab Straight, one of the world's busiest shipping routes, is the southern entrance to the Red Sea.
The alliance intervened in the war in 2015 at the request of the internationally-recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi to restore its power and push back the rebels after they took control of the capital Sanaa.
Col Turki Al Malki, spokesman for the coalition, said on Wednesday that the Houthi attack was "a dangerous threat to the freedom of navigation and international trade".
"Port of Hodeidah is still the starting point of terrorist attacks," he added.
UAE’s Reem Al Hashimy: Solution in Hodeidah could lead to final settlement in Yemen
UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said that the attack reaffirmed the need to liberate Hodeidah from the Houthis.
"Targeting the two oil tankers in the Red Sea confirms the need to liberate Hodeidah from the Houthi militias," he tweeted on Thursday.
"The systematic attack on maritime navigation is considered terrorist behaviour and hostile, showing the nature of the Houthis and their agression."
Speaking at a Police Exchange think tank in London on Thursday, Mr Gargash said, "this is a totally irresponsible act...the effect of it actually is much wider than the region."
"I think this is another example of why the Houthi takeover of the Yemeni government in Sanaa should end," he added.
The Yemeni government also condemned the "terrorist" attack and said that it was an indication the Houthis are rejecting peace and all initiatives to relinquish control of Hodeidah.
Yemeni Vice President Ali Mohsen Al Ahmer said that the repeated violations of the Houthi rebels continue to complicate the efforts of UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, who has been shuttling between pro-government forces and the Houthis to reach an agreement on the Yemen conflict — in particular the key port city of Hodeidah.
Yemen's Minister of Human Rights Mohammed Askar said that the Houthis' attack of the oil tankers was in violation of international laws.
"Such terrorist behaviour by the Houthi militia that is backed by Iran signifies the importance of liberating Hodeidah from the rebels' control to secure the international maritime route," he told The National.
Pro-government forces and the coalition say the rebels must withdraw fully and unconditionally from the city, while the rebels have so far only agreed to shared control with the UN.
The alliance has paused an offensive on Hodeidah port in a bid to give UN-led peace efforts a chance. However, the UAE, whose forces in the coalition are spearheading military efforts in Hodeidah, has warned that the troops could "liberate" the city if those peace efforts fail.
Meanwhile, the Houthis have a number of times threatened to block the Bab Al Mandab Strait to force the Yemeni troops and the US-backed Saudi-led coalition to permanently stop their offensive.
On Thursday, Iran's Quds force chief Qassem Soleimani said that the Red Sea was not secure with the presence of US troops in the area.
"The Red Sea which was secure is no longer secure with the American presence … [US President Donald] Trump should know that we are nation of martyrdom and that we await him," Mr Soleimani was quoted as saying in a report on Iran's Arabic-language Al Alam television.