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UAE report on oil tanker attacks blames ‘state actor’

07 June 2019

The United Arab Emirates has told the UN Security Council a ‘state actor’ was most likely behind attacks on four tankers off its coast. The May 12 attacks bore the hallmarks of a sophisticated and co-ordinated operation, the report said.

Iranian fast attack boats - Image: Mehr News Agency
Iranian fast attack boats - Image: Mehr News Agency

The report did not spell out which state might be responsible for the attacks on the four vessels off UAE territorial waters east of the emirate of Fujairah. Two vessels were from Saudi Arabia and the other two from Norway and the UAE.

According to the UAE-led investigation, which was presented to a closed session of the UN Security Council in New York, the attacks showed a high degree of sophistication.

"The attacks required the expert navigation of fast boats" which "were able to intrude into UAE territorial waters", the report's preliminary findings said.

Divers were used to attack the ships using limpet mines to cause damage but not cause a major explosion, the report said.
There were no casualties but Saudi Arabia said its two ships suffered significant damage, and images of the two other vessels show damage on or below the waterline.

Responding to the UAE report, the Saudi Ambassador to the UN, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, said the kingdom believed "that the responsibility for this action lies on the shoulders of Iran. We have no hesitation in making this statement," Reuters news agency reported.

Earlier, the US also accused Iran of being responsible for the tanker attacks, but Tehran denied this and called for an investigation.

US sources said the US Navy tracked a flotilla of small vessels from Iran, from which they believe divers attached mines to the tankers.

Without actually naming Iran, the report formalises these allegations.

The attacks took place at a time of escalating tension between the US and Iran. The US has sent an aircraft carrier battle group and bombers to the region in response to what it said was an unspecified plan by Iran to attack US forces in the area.

While it is unclear why Iran would carry out a relatively low-level attack on the multinational tankers, the BBC said observers have speculated that it could have been to send a signal to forces ranged against it that it is capable of disrupting shipping there without triggering a war.

Saudi Arabia also said that explosive-laden drones had struck oil pumping stations in the Riyadh region on May 14 in what it called an act of terrorism, two days after the oil tanker attacks.

A Saudi-led military coalition has been fighting Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen for four years and Houthi media claimed they had launched drone attacks on the Saudi installations.

The BBC says this will increase the pressure-cooker atmosphere in the region, with any mistake or misunderstanding by either side risking a serious military engagement.

The Trump administration has taken a hard line towards Iran, accusing it of being a destabilising force in the Middle East. For its part, Iran has accused the US of aggressive behaviour.

Tensions increased last month when Washington ended exemptions from sanctions for countries still buying oil from Iran. Washington reinstated sanctions a year ago when it abandoned an international nuclear deal curbing Iran's nuclear programme.

The decision is intended wipe out Iran's oil exports, denying the government its main source of revenue.

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