Tankers Sabotaged in Persian Gulf

Tensions in the Persian Gulf escalated after four ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), including two Saudi Arabian oil tankers, were sabotaged on May 12.  One ship was due to take a delivery of Saudi oil bound for the United States. “Fortunately, the attack didn't lead to any casualties or oil spill; however, it caused significant damage to the structures of the two vessels,” said Khalid al-Falih, the kingdom’s energy minister. An “unknown object” created a hole above the waterline the Norwegian-flagged Andrea Victory, according to its owner, Thome Ship  Management. 

The UAE did not speculate on who might have been responsible, but the alleged attack came as the United States warned that “Iran or its proxies” could target maritime traffic in and around the Persian Gulf. Iran was the most likely culprit, according to a U.S. official who spoke with Reuters on condition of anonymity, but the United States did not offer conclusive proof.

On May 13, Trump had warned that Iran “will suffer greatly” if it attacks U.S. interests in the Gulf. “We will see what happens with Iran. If they do anything, it’ll be a big mistake,” he told the press. Earlier in May, the United States announced the deployment of U.S. warships, a bombing task force and a Patriot missile battery to the region as a warning to Iran. Washington said the expedited movement of U.S. forces was in response to an increased threat from Iran and its proxies across the region. 

Washington said the expedited movement of U.S. forces was in response to an increased threat from Iran and its proxies across the region. But a British general with the U.S.-led coalition to fight ISIS said he did not detect a change. “No, there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, the deputy commander for strategy and information for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters at the Pentagon on May 14. “There are a substantial number of militia groups in Iraq and Syria, and we don’t see any increased threat from many of them at this stage.” U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt contradicted Ghika in a tweet on May 16. 


Iran denied any involvement in the tanker attack and accused the Trump administration of trying to frame it. One Iranian lawmaker attributed the tanker attacks to “Israeli mischief.”


On May 14, drones attacked a Saudi oil pipeline west of Riyadh, starting a fire that caused minor damage to one pumping station. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been backed by Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack. “This is a message to Saudi Arabia: Stop your aggression,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam told the Associated Press. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih called the attack “cowardly.” 


The following are international reactions to the two attacks on tankers in the Gulf and the Saudi pipeline.  


United States


President Donald Trump

“It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens, I can tell you that. They’re not going to be happy. They are not going to be happy people, okay?”

—May 13, 2019, in remarks to the press


Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook

Brian HookMR. HOOK:  The Secretary decided to make a stop in Brussels on his way to Sochi for his meeting with President Putin.  The Secretary shared information and intelligence with allies and discussed the multiple plot vectors emerging from Iran.  We know that Europe shares our concerns about stability in the Gulf and in the Middle East. 

QUESTION:  Among those threats, did the Secretary raise the sabotage attacks on the vessels in the Gulf?  And what can you tell us about what the U.S. knows about that? 

MR HOOK:  We did discuss the reported attacks on the two Saudi tankers, the Norwegian tanker, and the Emirati tanker.  I would refer you to UAE and Saudi and to Norway for any specific information that they have. 

MS ORTAGUS:  I just actually got something in while we were sitting here that the DOD is going to be confirming on the record, so I’ll give this to you guys.  The DOD is saying:  By request of the UAE Government, we are aiding in the investigation.  So just got that.

QUESTION:  But the Secretary didn’t raise it as a sort of one of those threat vectors, as you say, from Iran?

MR HOOK:  I’m sorry, what do you mean by that?

QUESTION:  He’s not making the connection or blaming Iran or its proxies for that?

MR HOOK:  We discussed the – what seemed to be attacks on commercial vessels that were anchored off of Fujairah.  As Morgan said, we have been requested by the UAE to provide assistance in the investigation, which we are very glad to do.

QUESTION:  Do you believe there’s the possibility that Iran played a role?

MR HOOK:  Don’t have any comment.

—May 13, 2019 in remarks to the press in Brussels, Belgium


United Arab Emirates


Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The United Arab Emirates has strongly condemned the drone attacks on two pump stations on Saudi Aramco’s East-West pipeline. The pipeline transports Saudi oil from the Eastern Province to the port of Yanbu.

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, MOFAIC, denounced the "cowardly act of terrorism and sabotage" aimed at undermining the safety of the world's global energy supplies and economy. It reaffirmed the UAE's outright support for the Kingdom and for all measures taken to protect the security of its facilities and natural resources.

The Ministry stressed that the targeting of the two pumping stations proves once again the importance of addressing terrorist organisations that carry out such subversive acts, including the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen. It called on the international community to play its role in restoring legitimacy in Yemen, and to take the necessary steps to deal with terrorist acts that destabilise the region.

—May 14, 2019, in a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Saudi Arabia


Minister of Energy, Industry, and Mineral Resources Khalid Al-Falih

Khalid A. Al-Falih, Minister of Energy, Industry, and Mineral Resources, stated that on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, between 6:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., two pump stations on the East-West pipeline were attacked by armed drones which caused a fire and minor damage to Pump Station No. 8. The fire has since been contained. The pipeline transports Saudi oil from the Eastern Province to Yanbu port.

Saudi Aramco has taken all necessary measures and temporarily shut down the pipeline to evaluate its condition. The company is working on restoring the pump station prior to resuming operations.

Mr. Al-Falih confirmed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia condemns this cowardly attack, emphasizing that this act of terrorism and sabotage in addition to recent acts in the Arabian Gulf do not only target the Kingdom but also the security of world oil supplies and the global economy.

These attacks prove again that it is important for us to face terrorist entities, including the Houthi militias in Yemen that are backed by Iran.

The Saudi minister concluded the statement by asserting that Saudi oil production has not been interrupted.

—May 14, 2019, in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency



The Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, HE Khalid Al-Falih, confirmed that at six o’clock in the morning of Sunday, 7th of Ramadan 1440 Hijri; corresponding to 12th May 2019, two Saudi oil tankers were subjected to a sabotage attack in the exclusive economic zone of the United Arab Emirates, off the coast of the Emirate of Fujairah, while on their way to cross into the Arabian Gulf. One of the two vessels was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude oil from the port of Ras Tanura, to be delivered to Saudi Aramco’s customers in the United States. Fortunately, the attack didn’t lead to any casualties or oil spill; however, it caused significant damage to the structures of the two vessels.

The Saudi minister of energy denounced this attack that aims to undermine the freedom of maritime navigation, and the security of oil supplies to consumers all over the world.

The Saudi minister also emphasized the joint responsibility of the international community to protect the safety of maritime navigation and the security of oil tankers, to mitigate against the adverse consequences of such incidents on energy markets, and the danger they pose to the global economy.

—May 13, 2019, in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency




Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif


Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei


Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Seyyed Abbas Mousavi

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson says the Sunday incidents for several vessels in the Sea of Oman were alarming and regrettable. In a Monday statement, Seyyed Abbas Mousavi called for the clarification of the exact dimensions of the incident. Referring to the negative impact of these incidents on shipping safety and maritime security, he warned against plots by ill-wishers to disrupt regional security. Mousavi also called for the vigilance of regional states in the face of any adventurism by foreign elements.

—May 13, 2019, in an Iranian Foreign Ministry press release


Ambassador the United Nations Majid Takht-Ravanchi

CNN: Intelligence suggests Iran is behind the sabotage in the strait of hormuz the other day. Was Iran involved?

Ravanchi: Definitely not. This is something we regret. This has to be a thorough investigation on this incident, which is dealing with security in the Persian Gulf. It's for Iran, as well. We want a thorough investigation. Let me tell you, these allegations are being given by certain people in Washington who whisper in presidents' ears, and some other people in our region. Netanyahu. These people are spreading lies to provoke, to prepare the ground for a conflict in our neighborhood.

CNN: No involvement from Iranian proxies either? No one connected to Iran?

Ravanchi: As I said, Iran is not in the business of doing such a thing. We need to have a thorough investigation as to what was the -- what has happened and who is responsible for it.

CNN: The United States predicated the movement of a U.S. Aircraft carrier and other equipment to the Persian Gulf based on what they told the media was intelligence that Iran was planning some kind of attacks on U.S. Interest. What about that intelligence?

Ravanchi: These are all fake intelligence. These are fake intelligence based on certain narrow minded agenda, as I said, pursued by certain people in Washington, as well as in our region. They are making up these allegations. And in order to create fake –

CNN: Do you have any plans -- does Iran have any plans, directly or through its proxies or allies in Iraq, in Lebanon, to attack U.S. Interests or troops?

Ravanchi: We have a vested interest with Iraq, and we do not interfere in the affairs of Iraq. It is a sovereign government. We have good relations with that country.

CNN: It was reported overnight, and CNN has confirmed -- well, "The New York Times" reported, let me say this, that the national security council was briefed on Pentagon plans to deploy some 120,000 U.S. Troops to the Persian Gulf region if Iran attacks U.S. Interests in there. What's your reaction to these plans? >>

Ravanchi: These are all psychological warfare, in our opinion. We are not in the business of trying to create a conflict in our neighborhood. Nobody is going to have benefit from such a conflict in our region, except for a few, some people in Washington and some countries in our neighborhood.

CNN: You've heard the president of the United States say it would be a very big mistake if Iran does anything. What do you think he means?

Ravanchi: I don't know. You should ask him. Iran is having great relations with our neighbors. Iran is in the Persian Gulf area. We are not in Gulf of Mexico. These questions should be directed to those people who have come to our neighborhood from thousands of miles. We are there. We are protecting our interest in our neighborhood, and we are protecting the safety and security of the Persian Gulf area.

—May 14, 2019, in an interview with John Berman on CNN’s “New Day”


Member of Parliament Behrouz Nemati

“The events that took place in the Emirates were Israeli mischief.”

—May 14, 2019, in comments published by Iranian state media


U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

“We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side. I think what we need is a period of calm to make sure that everyone understands what the other side is thinking. Most of all, we need to make sure we don’t end up putting Iran back on the path to renuclearization.”

—May 13, 2019, in remarks to the press at a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers in Brussels


German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas

“I once again made it clear that we are concerned about developments and tensions in the region.”

—May 13, 2019, in remarks after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels


E.U. High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini

“The most responsible attitude to take should be that of maximum restraint and avoiding any escalation on the military side.”

—May 13, 2019, in remarks after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels