July 23, 2019
Latest News

Gulf of Oman attacks trigger tighter security on key shipping routes

By Benoit Faucon, Costas Paris and Summer Said

Bangkok Desk, Jun 15 (efe-epa).- Governments and tanker companies were stepping up efforts to protect shipping lanes as the U.S. and Iran traded accusations over attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway traversed by over a third of the world's seaborne crude oil, Dow Jones Newswires reported in an article provided to Efe Saturday.

Saudi Arabia has increased security around oil facilities and strategic areas, a senior Saudi official said. The United Arab Emirates has joined with shipping companies to increase sea-lane security in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman, according to Gulf officials familiar with the discussions.

Shipping insurance costs were rising fast, with rates on supertanker cargoes for the Middle East-to-China route jumping 34% after the attacks, hitting $24,854 a day, according a broker in Singapore.

U.S. officials say it was clear that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was responsible for the Thursday attacks. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif shot back on Twitter, suggesting the U.S. or its allies were likely behind the assaults and that Washington "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran - [without] a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence."

"Iran did do it," Mr. Trump said on Fox News, pointing to a video that U.S. Central Command said showed an IRGC vessel removing a limpet mine from the hull of one of the ships, the Kokuka Courageous, a Japanese-operated vessel. "I guess one of the mines didn't explode and it's probably got essentially Iran written all over it... It was them that did it."

Persian Gulf oil producers and tanker companies scurried in response to tension "as high as it gets without being an actual armed conflict," according to BIMCO, a shipping trade group.

The Saudi official said the attacks have exposed vulnerabilities in the Strait of Hormuz, through which between two and three dozen ships pass every day. Gulf states are struggling to mount a strong defense against drones and torpedoes.

"The key thing now is to find a way to deal with those type of attacks in the future and assure everyone that those routes are still safe," the official said.

Military units from unspecified countries are deployed off Fujairah, the easternmost emirate of the U.A.E., for "surveillance, monitoring and response," said tanker-industry associations Intertanko and Oil Companies International Marine Forum, or OCIMF. The U.S. has had a large contingent in the area, including an aircraft carrier group.

The organizations are in contact with Emirati and Saudi authorities, as well as the international Combined Maritime Forces, to gather information about the attacks that could help its members decide on security, a person familiar with the matter said. The international maritime force is a naval partnership including the U.S. tasked with protecting civilian maritime traffic against piracy and terrorism in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean.

"It's a difficult situation and there may be more attacks," said Theodore Veniamis, president of the Union of Greek Shipowners, whose members control around a third of the world's crude tankers and 15% of chemical and product tankers. "The threat to crews and ships is high."

Thursday's attack followed weeks of simmering tension in the region between Iran and the U.S. in the wake of the Trump administration's exit last year from the multinational 2015 nuclear deal and imposition of sanctions on Tehran.

A U.S. military official said Friday an American MQ-9 drone was shot down over Yemen June 6, "with Iranian assistance."

The official didn't elaborate on Iran's involvement. The military official said the drone was targeted by a Soviet-made SA-6 surface-to-air missile system. The U.S. drone was later destroyed by an American airstrike to protect the classified systems and data aboard the aircraft, the official said.

The U.S. and its Middle East allies have accused Iran of orchestrating a series of attacks in recent weeks, including the sabotage of four tankers in the Gulf of Oman in May and drone attacks by Yemeni Houthi rebels on Saudi Arabia. The U.S. has built up its military presence in the region in response to what it calls Iranian threats, while Tehran has threatened to withdraw from some limits on its nuclear program in retaliation for sanctions.

The Trump administration has said it is considering options including military escorts for tankers traveling through the area, but some U.S. military officials said they don't believe accompanying each tanker through the Strait of Hormuz is practical.

Escorts for all tankers would be costly and wouldn't be able to start for several weeks, as the Navy would have to locate ships and send them to the region, officials said. In 2015, the Navy accompanied commercial ships through the Strait of Hormuz after Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged container ship. But that mission only lasted for days and was limited to U.S.-flagged ships.

Analysts said that if Iran was responsible for the attacks, they were likely carried out by the IRGC, a powerful military cadre that answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The IRGC has in the past benefited from conflict and Iranian isolation and has chafed at President Hassan Rouhani's attempts to rein in its influence.

The IRGC's navy makes waters off Iran potentially treacherous. The paramilitary force is equipped to swarm hostile vessels with fast boats armed with torpedoes and short-range missiles and small patrol craft equipped with machine guns and rocket launchers. It can mine the strait and traverse it with aircraft.

IRGC commanders have repeatedly threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz if Iran isn't allowed to export oil. Under U.S. sanctions, Iranian oil exports have fallen to about 500,000 barrels a day, down from 2.9 million barrels a day in 2016.

"The threat of disrupting the flow of oil to the international markets is one of the few ways in which Tehran can retaliate against the U.S., perhaps without provoking war," said Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow with the Arab Gulf States Institute, a Washington think tank, and an expert on the IRGC. "Tehran believes President Trump's unwillingness to entangle the U.S. in wars is one of the few factors restraining the U.S."

The IRGC hasn't publicly commented on the attacks, but Iran's mission to the United Nations in a statement Thursday called the allegations "another Iranophobic campaign."

The details of Thursday's attacks made shipowners nervous.

One of the tankers, a Norwegian vessel, appeared to have been hit by a torpedo. The other tanker, owned by Kokuka Sangyo Co., was struck by two "flying objects," the president of the Japanese company said at a Tokyo press conference on Friday.

Neither scenario supported Mr. Trump's suggestion that mines were to blame.

"Nothing can stop a torpedo," said a Greek owner of more than a dozen tankers. "I would have pulled two of our ships out of there, but they are on contract with a Chinese client and we've got to move the oil."

Shipping trade groups offered advice for captains and crews operating in the region. The Norwegian Maritime Authority advised captains to keep a safe distance from Iranian waters and called for increased patrols, including in ports and on vessels.

BIMCO recommended measures such as increased onboard patrols, notably in nonrestricted areas of vessels. It also advised crews and captains to make sure hulls are well secured by closing doors and hatches that could be entered from the outside, and ensure that crews sleep in areas located above the waterline.

dj/ses

News history
US slaps sanctions on Chinese state-owned company for buying Iranian oil

Miami, USA, July 22 (efe-epa).- The United States has imposed sanctions on a Chinese state-owned company for allegedly violating the restrictions imposed on...

Power blackout hits most of Venezuela

Caracas, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- A new power blackout left much of Venezuela without electricity on Monday starting at 4:40 pm, and the state-run Corpoelec,...

Trump pursues closer ties with Pakistan

Alfonso Fernandez

Cameras, scientists watch over one of the world's most deadly volcanoes

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Trump: I'd win Afghan war in a week but only by wiping out too many people

Washington, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- US President Donald Trump said Monday he could win the Afghanistan war in a week, but added that he doesn't really want to...

Trump praises Xi for showing restraint with Hong Kong protests

Washington, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- President Donald Trump said Monday that his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, had shown restraint in the face of the mass...

Israel demolishes Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem

Wadi Hummus, West Bank, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- The house Palestinian Akran Jawahda was going to live in with his family became a mountain of rubble on Monday as...

More than 300 killed by monsoon rains in India, Nepal and Bangladesh

New Delhi, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- At least 336 people died and more than 12 million have been affected so far this month due to floods and heavy rains that hit...

Criticism mounts as Portugal struggles to tame wildfire

By Carlos García

Volodymyr Zelensky to form first solo government in Ukraine history

Kiev, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looks set to form a government on his own for the first time in the post-Soviet history of...

Grenfell community kitchen helps survivors of blaze

By Judith Mora

Spain's Sánchez launches bid for progressive government

By Jake Threadgould

Rodrigo Duterte urges death penalty for drug-related offenses

By Sara Gomez Armas

Former Afghan soccer officials indicted in sex abuse scandal

Kabul, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- Five former Afghan soccer officials, accused of sexually abusing some female players, have been indicted by prosecutors, the...

Attack near Mogadishu airport leaves 19 dead, 23 injured

Mogadishu, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- At least 19 people were killed and 23 wounded Monday in suicide car bomb attack that took place near a checkpoint close to...

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano dies at the age of 72

Vienna, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, has died at the age of 72, the organization...

Hong Kong protesters reel from gang attack, say police turned blind eye

By Shirley Lau

Japan's Abe wins upper house election, falls short of majority for reform

Tokyo, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- The Japanese prime minister's political coalition on Monday won the partial legislative elections to the upper house of...

Zelenski's party triumphs in Ukraine elections, exit polls say

Kiev, Jul 21 (efe-epa).- The party headed by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, the Servant of the People party - named after the sitcom in which he...

Trump: Squad congresswomen should apologize to US, Israel

Washington, Jul 21 (efe-epa).- President Donald Trump on Sunday once again unloaded on the four Democratic congresswomen known as "The Squad" after sparking...

Iran warns UK against escalating tensions in tit-for-tat tanker seizures

By Marina Villén

Boris Johnson on the cusp of power

By Viviana García

At least 10 killed in twin attacks in Pakistan

Islamabad, Jul 21 (efe-epa).- At least 10 people were killed Sunday and 29 others injured in twin attacks in northwestern Pakistan.

'Hundreds of thousands' throng Hong Kong in fresh pro-democracy protests

Hong Kong, Jul 21 (efe-epa).- Hundreds of thousands of protesters thronged central Hong Kong once again on Sunday as a fresh bout of pro-democracy...

I agree Welcome to news4europe.eu. We use cookies to improve your online experience. Find out more.