A month after the attack on four tankers off Fujairah, a summary of preliminary findings of an investigation by the UAE, Norway and Saudi Arabia has concluded that a “state actor” was most likely behind the operation.
The report found the attack was “designed to incapacitate the ships without sinking them or detonating their cargoes".
“The four attacks were part of a sophisticated and co-ordinated operation carried out by an actor with significant operational capacity, most likely a state actor,” said a statement from the three countries' ambassadors to the UN.
The investigation, which assessed the damage to the four vessels and conducted a chemical analysis of the debris, found it was "highly likely" that limpet mines were used in the attack.
“It appears most likely that the mines were placed on the vessels by divers deployed from fast boats,” the statement said, based on radar data and the short time the targeted vessels had been at anchor before the attacks.
The report, obtained by The National, pointed to evidence to support the theory that a state was behind the sabotage.
"The attacks required intelligence capabilities for the deliberate selection of four oil tankers among 200 vessels of all types that lay at anchor off Fujairah at the time of the attacks,” it said.
“One of the targets was at the opposite end of the anchorage area from the other ships, which indicates that these were premeditated strikes rather than targets picked at random.
“The attacks likely required the positive identification of these pre-selected targets by the operatives carrying out the attacks.”
The statement said the level of training for the attacks, and the contained nature of it, suggested a state was involved.
“It required training divers," it read.
"The explosive charges were placed with a high degree of precision under the waterline, in ways that were designed to incapacitate the ships without sinking them or detonating their cargoes, indicating minute knowledge of the design of the targeted ships."
The investigation also revealed evidence of a high degree of co-ordination among several teams of operatives, including the timed detonation of all four charges within less than an hour.
"The attacks required expert navigation of fast boats that were able to intrude into UAE territorial waters and to exfiltrate the operatives after delivering the explosive charges,” the statement said.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton has accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard of being behind the attack, but the initial findings of the UAE-led investigation did not name a specific state.
The report said the investigation would continue and that the three countries would share the preliminary findings with the International Maritime Organisation in London.
"Our investigations are still ongoing," said Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE's permanent representative to the UN.
"To date, they have included data gathered through technical teams, deployment of divers, and chemical analysis in UAE laboratories that is being verified with international partner teams."
Ms Nusseibeh said it was worth noting that all four vessels attacked were close to one of the two channels used to enter and exit the port.
She said the Saudi vessels were among the largest present in the port and that all four ships were deliberately chosen.
"The explosions could have had a catastrophic impact if the perpetrators had desired, suggesting it was a sophisticated attack planned to be contained without widespread destruction," Ms Nusseibeh said.
"The capability of intelligence and training is associated with the special forces of a state.
"It is a violation of state sovereignty, a threat to global maritime and international security. We have enhanced our security measures.
"These findings are preliminary, and we will continue to share the results of further investigations with the Security Council."
She said council members who were at the presentation of the statement expressed concern and solidarity with the UAE, Norway and Saudi Arabia.
"The investigation is very technical," Ms Nusseibeh said. "We are looking at the available data and we are analysing it. We are not at the stage of attribution.
"The US has carried out its own investigation but we have not yet seen those findings. There have been conversations at the intelligence and technical level with the US and a number of international partners.
"We are looking for an international response that would safeguard security in the region, the security of commercial shipping and of the global energy supply."