An oil tanker off Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jeddah has been hit by an unidentified “external source” that caused a fire and an explosion, a shipping company said, suggesting another vessel has come under attack off the kingdom amid it’s years-long war in Yemen.
In a statement on Monday, shipping company Hafnia said all 22 sailors on board the Singapore-flagged BW Rhine escaped without injury. The company warned it was possible some oil leaked out from the site of the blast. “BW Rhine has been hit from an external source whilst discharging at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia at approximately 00:40 local time on 14 December 2020 [21:40 GMT on Sunday], causing an explosion and subsequent fire onboard,” Hafnia said in the statement on it’s website. The ship’s crew put out the fire, the company said, adding that parts of the ship’s hull had been damaged. “It is possible that some oil has escaped from the vessel, but this has not been confirmed and instrumentation currently indicates that oil levels on board are at the same level as before the incident,” Hafnia said.
The BW Rhine loaded about 60,000 tonnes of gasoline from Yanbu port on December 6, according to shipping data on Refinitiv. The tanker is currently 84-percent full, according to it’s draft. Monday’s explosion jangled nerves in the energy market. The incident, coupled with hopes that a rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine will lift global fuel demand, pushed the price of Brent crude oil back above $50 a barrel. The United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations, an organisation under Britain’s 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.
Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge the blast, which struck off a crucial port and distribution centre for it’s oil trade and comes after a number of security incidents concerning Saudi oil infrastructure. On November 25, an explosion damaged a Greek-managed tanker while at berth in the Saudi port of Shuqaiq, the kingdom blamed Yemen’s Houthi rebels for the mine attack, the Houthis, who are fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, did not comment on the incident. The rebel group, however, did claim a missile attack that struck a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station in Jeddah on November 23.
Dryad Global said if the Houthis were behind Monday’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, making any mining of the area 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.