An oil tanker off the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah has suffered an explosion after being hit by “an external source”, a shipping company said, suggesting the latest in a series of attacks on vessels in the kingdom amid its years-long war in Yemen.
The Singapore-flagged BW Rhine saw all 22 sailors on board escape without injury after the attack on Sunday, the BW Group said in a statement. The company warned it was possible some oil leaked out from the site of the blast.
Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge the blast at the Red Sea port that is a crucial component of its oil industry. However, it comes after a mine attack last month that damaged a tanker off Saudi Arabia that authorities blamed on Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
The United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations, which is part of the British royal navy, urged ships in the area to exercise caution and said investigations were ongoing.
Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, also reported the blast. No one immediately offered a cause.
The US navy’s 5th fleet, which patrols the waters of the Middle East, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The explosion comes after a mine exploded and damaged a ship off Saudi Arabia last month and another targeted a cargo ship off the small port city of Nishtun in Yemen’s far east earlier this month.
Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have used sea mines before in their long war against a Saudi-led coalition. However, the Houthis have not commented last month’s attack.
The rebels launched a missile attack on an oil storage facility in November, triggering an explosion and a fire in a fuel tank. Also in November, several people were injured after an explosion at an Armistice Day ceremony in Jeddah.
Dryad Global said if it was the Houthis behind Sunday’s blast, it “would represent a fundamental shift in both targeting capabilities and intent”.
The Red Sea is a vital shipping lane for both cargo and global energy supplies. If the port has been laid with mines, it will pose a danger not only to Saudi Arabia but to the rest of the world. Mines can enter the water and then be carried away by the currents that change by the season in the Red Sea.
The Red Sea has been mined previously. In 1984, some 19 ships reported striking mines there, with only one ever being recovered and disarmed, according to a U.N. panel of experts investigating Yemen’s war.