Four commercial ships ‘sabotaged’ near UAE waters, foreign ministry says

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(CNN)The United Arab Emirates has said that four commercial cargo ships were targeted by “sabotage operations” off its eastern coast, just hours after the country’s government denied media reports of explosions at a nearby port.

The apparent sabotage took place near to UAE territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of the emirate of Fujairah, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said Sunday.

The ministry did not elaborate on the nature of the alleged sabotage, or offer any indication as to who might be responsible, including whether it was carried out by individuals or a larger group or country.

Two Saudi Arabian oil tankers were involved in the incident, the kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency said Monday, citing energy minister Khalid Al-Falih.

While the agency didn’t mention casualties or oil spills, it did say there had been “significant damage to the structures of the two vessels.”

The UAE ministry said authorities were working with local and international bodies to investigate the incident, which it described as a “dangerous development.” It said there were no injuries or deaths.

“The international community (needs to) assume its responsibilities to prevent any parties trying to undermine the security and safety of maritime traffic,” the ministry said.

Tensions have risen in the oil-rich region in recent weeks amid the deployment of a growing number of United States military assets to the Middle East due to deteriorating relations with Iran.

The alleged incident came less than 24 hours after the UAE government denied reports alleging that seven oil tankers were involved in an explosion in the port of Fujairah on Sunday morning, carried first by Lebanon’s pro-Hezbollah Al-Mayadeen satellite channel.

The news was later picked up by Iran’s state-owned Press TV and other outlets.

“The operations at the port are going as normal,” a statement from the Emirates News Agency said Sunday. “Media outlets must be responsible and rely on official sources.”

Fujairah is located close to the Strait of Hormuz, a strategically important waterway that connects the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea.

The US Energy Information Administration calls the Strait of Hormuz “the world’s most important oil transit chokepoint,” with an estimated 20% of oil traded worldwide moving through the channel, which is about 30 miles wide at its narrowest point.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, the two vessels had been intending to cross into the Persian Gulf. “One of the two vessels was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude oil from the port of Ras Tanura, to be delivered to Saudi Aramco’s customers in the United States,” the agency reported Monday.

In a statement Sunday, the Gulf Cooperation Council condemned the “sabotage operations” with the council’s General Secretary, Abdul Latif bin Rashid al-Zayani, calling the incident a “dangerous escalation (that) speaks of the evil intentions” of whoever carried out the attack.

“The General Secretary calls on the international community and the international maritime organizations to practice its politics and lawfulness to stop any sides that try to harm the safety or the maritime flow in this strategic part to the world,” read the statement.

“These irresponsible acts only adds to the tension and conflict in the region and jeopardize the interests of their peoples.”

CNN’s Mohammed Elshamy and Karen Smith in Atlanta and Nada AlTaher in Abu Dhabi contributed to this article.



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