DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A remotely piloted boat full of explosives targeted Saudi Arabia’s Yanbu port in the Red Sea on Tuesday, the kingdom said, with the blast sending black smoke into the sky off the coast.
Saudi Arabia claimed to have intercepted and destroyed the attack boat. However, private security companies have suggested that commercial traffic near the port may have been affected in the assault.
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Details have remained scarce, but the incident comes after a series of attacks on ships in the wider Middle East amid a shadow war between Iran and Israel and in the context of negotiations ongoing between Tehran and world powers over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal.
The incident also comes amid the kingdom’s years-long war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. In the past, the Houthis have used bomb-laden drones and explosives-laden boats in attacks on the kingdom. However, the rebels did not immediately claim responsibility for the attacks on Tuesday.
The state-run Saudi News Agency quoted Saudi Army spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki as saying the port was the target of the drone.
“The boat bomb was treated and destroyed according to the rules of engagement,” al-Maliki said, citing the report, without providing any evidence to support his claim.
UK Maritime Trade Operations, led by the British Navy, simply said they were “aware of incident reports” and investigations were ongoing. Private maritime security firm Dryad Global said it had reports that a ship had been “attacked”, without giving further details.
Maritime security company Neptune P2P Group reported that black smoke was seen spreading near the southern entrance to Yanbu Port.
British maritime security company Ambrey reported an “incident” off western Saudi Arabia, between the ports of Yanbu and Rabigh. Earlier Tuesday morning, smoke was seen rising from a ship off the Saudi oil transport port of Yanbu, the company said. Several tankers remain anchored or drift in the area.
Yanbu Port Control broadcast a marine VHF radio message, warning ships to increase their level of vigilance and watch for any suspicious activity, Ambrey said.
The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in the Middle East, declined to immediately comment on the incident.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Iranian warships had a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf earlier this month, the first such incident in about a year, the U.S. Navy said on Tuesday.
Images released by the Navy showed a ship commanded by Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards cut off in front of USCGC Monomoy, causing the coastguard ship to abruptly stop with its steaming engine on April 2.
The Guard also did the same with another Coast Guard vessel, USCGC Wrangell, said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, 5th Fleet spokesperson. Such close passages run the risk of ships colliding at sea.
Iran did not immediately recognize the incident in the southern part of the Persian Gulf, which caused no injuries or damage.
“The American crews issued several warnings via deck-to-deck radio, five brief explosions from the horns of the ships, and while the (Iranian) Harth 55 responded to the deck-to-deck radio requests, they continued the dangerous maneuvers,” he said. he added. Said Rebarich. “After about three hours of warning and defensive maneuvering by the United States, the (Iranian) ships moved away from the American ships and opened the distance between them.”
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the incident, which involved the Iranian support ship Harth and three Iranian rapid attack devices. Coast Guard units operate out of Bahrain as part of the Southwest Asia Patrol Forces, its largest unit overseas.
The interaction marked the first “dangerous and unprofessional” incident involving the Iranians since April 15, 2020, Rebarich said. However, Iran had largely ended such incidents in 2018 and most of 2019, she said.
In 2017, the Navy recorded 14 cases of what it describes as “dangerous and / or unprofessional” interactions with Iranian forces. He recorded 35 in 2016 and 23 in 2015.
Incidents at sea almost always involve the Revolutionary Guards, who report only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Typically, these are Iranian speedboats armed with deck-mounted machine guns and rocket launchers that test weapons or observe US aircraft carriers crossing the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf at through which 20% of all oil passes.
Some analysts believe the incidents are in part aimed at squeezing President Hassan Rouhani’s administration after the 2015 nuclear deal. They include a 2016 incident in which Iranian forces captured and detained 10 US sailors overnight. are lost in the territorial waters of the Islamic Republic.
“The US naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanders retain the inherent right to act in self-defense,” Rebarich said.
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The incident comes as Iran is negotiating with world powers in Vienna over Tehran and Washington to revert to the 2015 nuclear deal, with negotiations set to resume on Tuesday. It also follows a string of incidents across the Middle East attributed to a shadow war between Iran and Israel, which includes attacks on regional shipping and sabotage of the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz. .
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