UAE says four ships subjected to 'sabotage' off east coast

Foreign ministry doesn't name who was responsible but warns the incident constitutes a 'serious development'.

    Fujairah's port is located 140km from the Strait of Hormuz, the focus of increasing Iran-US tensions [Hamad Mohammed/Reuters]
    Fujairah's port is located 140km from the Strait of Hormuz, the focus of increasing Iran-US tensions [Hamad Mohammed/Reuters]

    The United Arab Emirates said four commercial ships were subjected to "sabotage operations" after false reports circulated in Lebanese and Iranian media outlets saying there had been explosions at one of the nation's seaports.

    Emirati officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the sabotage on Sunday, or say who might have been responsible.

    "Four commercial, civilian trading vessels of various nationalities this morning suffered acts of sabotage" off the UAE's eastern coast, the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run WAM news agency.

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    "Subjecting commercial vessels to sabotage operations and threatening the lives of their crew is considered a dangerous development."

    The statement said the ships were near the country's territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of the port of Fujairah.

    It said it was investigating the incident "in cooperation with local and international bodies", adding there were "no injuries or fatalities on board the vessels" and "no spillage of harmful chemicals or fuel".

    On Monday, Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said that two Saudi oil tankers were targeted the previous day in "a sabotage attack" off the coast of Fujairah and sustained "significant damage".

    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 state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco’s customers in the United States, Falih said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

    The "attack" did not lead to any casualties or an oil spill but damaged the structures of the two vessels, he added.

    Gulf tensions

    The incident comes as the United States has warned ships that "Iran or its proxies" could be targeting maritime traffic in the region, and as the US deploys an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Gulf to counter alleged threats from Tehran.

    The US navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said it was aware of the report but referred queries to UAE authorities.

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    The government of Fujairah earlier in a tweet denied media reports about blasts inside the port and said the facility was operating normally.

    Fujairah's port is located about 140km from the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-third of all oil at sea is traded.

    The facility handles oil for bunkering and shipping, as well as general and bulk cargo. It is seen as strategically located, serving shipping routes in the Gulf, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa.

    SOURCE: News agencies