Tanker attacks in Gulf of Oman - latest updates

The incident on Thursday, for which the US has blamed Iran, came a month after an attack on four tankers off the UAE coast

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• Iran creating a 'powder keg' that risks a Gulf War

• US military releases video evidence of 'Iran role' in tanker attack

• Iran behind oil tanker attacks, says Mike Pompeo

Stay here for The National's rolling coverage of the latest developments following the attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman including regional and international reaction.


Corbyn hit by online backlash over criticism of UK stance

The leader of Britain's main opposition party has questioned whether the government had evidence to back up its accusations that Iran was behind attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, and warned against escalating tensions.

"Without credible evidence about the tanker attacks, the government's rhetoric will only increase the threat of war," Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote on Twitter late on Friday.

"Britain should act to ease tensions in the Gulf, not fuel a military escalation that began with US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement," he said, referring to Washington's withdrawal from a 2015 pact to curb Tehran's nuclear plans.

Some replies were supportive of Mr Corbyn's tweet but a number were critical, with several highlighting his past paid appearances on an Iranian government TV channel.

Read the full story here.


Sheikh Abdullah calls for joint de-escalation effort

A joint effort is needed to spare the region from escalation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said on Saturday.

"Real regional security and stability will only be attained when regional actors work together. Our region is the main energy supplier to the world; our safety and security is key to ensuring prosperity and stability for all," the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation said during a visit to Bulgaria.

"We must work together to spare the region from escalation, and give the voice of wisdom a chance."

Read the full story here.


Saudi energy minister concerned about attacks

Saudi Arabia's energy minister Khalid Al Falih said crude supplies are stable and there’s no interruption but that he’s concerned about acts of terrorism and disruptions, and the responsibility of those who are perpetuating what has taken place, Platts reported on Saturday.

Traders are on alert after the attacks on the tankers, Bloomberg said.

On the sidelines of a G20 ministerial meeting on energy and the environment in Karuizawa, Japan, Mr Al Falih said “there is plenty of supply” when asked his current assessment of crude markets.


Safety of regional shipping in focus

London's The Times newspaper is reporting that Western allies are discussing plans to send military protection for oil tankers in the vital shipping lanes of the region.

While playing down any speculation of a "prompt response", an official said “the challenge is to build a consensus of how we do that — Britain, other European partners, the United States, Gulf allies, Japan and Norway — whoever has skin in the game”.

Following last month's sabotage of four vessels off the coast of Fujairah, an investigation carried out by the UAE, the US, Saudi Arabia, Norway and France, concluded that a "state actor" was most likely behind the operation, without assigning specific responsibility.

The US has, however, repeatedly said that Iran is behind that incident as well as Thursday's attacks in the Gulf of Oman. Britain says its own assessment has reached the same conclusion.

To counter the threat of Iran, Washington has recently moved more military forces into the region, which already hosts the US Navy 5th Fleet in Bahrain and the forward headquarters of Central Command at the vast Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

The waterways around the Arabian Gulf, including the Strait of Hormuz, and the Gulf of Oman are among the world's busiest and account for 30 per cent of all seaborne-traded oil and other liquids, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

At its narrowest point, the Strait of Hormuz is 21 miles wide, but the width of the shipping lane in either direction is only two miles wide, separated by a two-mile buffer zone.

Only Saudi Arabia and the UAE have pipelines that can ship crude oil outside of the Arabian Gulf and have additional pipeline capacity to circumvent the Strait of Hormuz.

On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and reiterated the United States’ "commitment to upholding freedom of navigation" in the area.

Riad Kahwaji, founder and chief executive of security and strategy consultancy INEGMA, told The National that it should not take more than a couple of weeks to put together a mechanism to protect shipping in the region because of the existing presence of the naval forces of the US, France, UK and other NATO countries, in addition to the capabilities of the navies of Arab Gulf states.

"There has to be a multinational effort to protect such a busy passage way. It will be in the form of escort ships plus reconnaissance planes and drones to monitor any suspicious activities. It is best if this effort is co-ordinated by one command centre to ensure quick response to incidents," Mr Khawaji said.

There are historical examples of when this kind of co-ordination has been successful such as during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and also in tackling the threat of Somali pirates that affected the area from the Sea of Oman to the Red Sea, he said.

The duration of such an operation would likely last as long as a threat remained. However, for any longer term response to be developed, the United Nations Security Council would need to drive that, according to Mr Khawaji.


Japanese tanker 'stable' after attacks

One of the tankers targeted in the attacks, the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, which was loaded with methanol, was on Friday towed to the port of Kalba, Reuters reported. The Dutch marine engineering firm Boskalis said it had been appointed to salvage the vessel and the other tanker, the Front Altair, operated by Frontline.

"The Kokuka Courageous is stable. Full damage assessments will be carried out, but there is no danger of her sinking and there is no loss of cargo or fuel containment," the ship's operator  Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said.