Saudi Arabia says it intercepted an explosive-laden boat off the Red Sea port of Yanbu after maritime security firms cited “unconfirmed reports” of an attack on a vessel in the area.
A Saudi defence ministry statement did not say whether there had been any damage as a result of the operation by the Saudi navy to intercept and destroy the remote-controlled drone boat on Tuesday.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted Saudi military spokesman Turki al-Maliki saying: “The booby-trapped boat was dealt and destroyed according to the rules of engagement.”
Security firm Dryad Global had earlier said it received “unconfirmed reports” that a vessel, possibly the oil tanker NCC Dammam owned by a unit of Saudi firm Bahri, had been attacked off Yanbu.
Chief executive Abdullah Aldubaikhi told Reuters news agency that no vessels owned by the National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia (Bahri) had been attacked.
Maritime security firm Neptune P2P Group reported that black smoke was seen billowing near the south entrance of the Yanbu port.
British maritime security company Ambry also cited reports of an incident and said smoke was seen rising from a vessel. Yanbu port control broadcast a message by marine VHF radio, warning vessels to increase their level of alertness and monitor for any suspicious activity, Ambrey said.
United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said it was aware of reports of an incident approximately 2 nautical miles from Yanbu and that investigations were ongoing.
Details remained scarce, but the incident comes after a series of attacks on shipping in the wider Middle East region amid a shadow war between Iran and Israel and against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations between Tehran and world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
Yanbu, 870 kilometers (540 miles) west of Riyadh, serves as the end point of the kingdom’s crucial East-West Pipeline. It allows crude oil pumped in its eastern fields to be shipped directly via the Red Sea, avoiding the Gulf’s chokepoint at the Strait of Hormuz.
Yanbu is also home to an oil refinery that can process 400,000 barrels of crude per day.
Vessels have previously come under attack in Red Sea waters.
In December, Saudi Arabia said a tanker anchored at the Jeddah port was hit by an explosive-laden boat. This followed a separate incident at another Saudi terminal on the Red Sea where a tanker was damaged by an explosion.
A Saudi Arabian-led military coalition engaged in Yemen has in the past foiled attempted assaults using explosive-laden boats it says are launched by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.
Houthis have justified its past attacks on Saudi soil saying they were in retaliation for Riyadh’s devastating military intervention that has created a humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
The Saudi defence ministry said it was investigating who was behind Tuesday’s “hostile attempt”.