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article imageOp-Ed: Incident with Iranian oil tanker may have involved missiles

By Ken Hanly     Oct 13, 2019 in Business
Iran's national oil company said that two explosions occurred on one of its tankers while it was 60 miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia opposite the Saudi port city of Jiddah.
Note that the incident was in the Red Sea off the west coast of Saudi Arabia far from the Iran coast and the Gulf region where there has been considerable tension.
First reports
The state-run new agency (IRNA) and Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) claimed the explosion set the vessel on fire and caused heavy damage to its tanks with oil spilling into the Red Sea. The Associated Press reported that Abbas Mousavi a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry described the incident as an attack carried out by those committing dangerous adventurism.
A spokesperson for Iran's government owned National oil company assessed no blame but said simply that the first explosion was around 5 AM and the second within a half hour. The company said that it was still trying to determine the cause though it suspected a missile attack.
While the official news agency IRNA reported that the explosions were the result of a missile attack the agency did not say who Iranian officials think was responsible for the attack. The agency said that the entire crew were safe and the ship was in a stable condition.
Paul Adams a BBC correspondent was skeptical about the Iranian reports: "This story is as clear as mud. It seemed to change. Two different ships have been named - the Sinopa and the Sabiti. We had reports of missiles striking the tanker and then an accusation briefly levelled against Saudi Arabia for committing what was described as an "act of terrorism". That claim seems to have been dropped quite quickly. And crucially there is no independent evidence at all that the vessel was struck. Pictures were released later in the morning showing nothing untoward. And most crucially both tankers are currently steaming at full speed in their different directions so there is no evidence that either vessel has been impaired in any way."
Only Iranian TV seems to have identified the ship in the incident as the Sinopa. Both ships are in the same area. The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) identified the ship as do others with the Sabiti. Iranian TV seems to be mistaken. It is true that any terrorist claim has been dropped for now and was no doubt a case of jumping to conclusions but it is not surprising given the tensions in the area and there have been claims of other incidents.
There is satellite evidence showing that there was indeed oil spilling from the Sabiti a clear indication that there must have been some damage even though they may not have shown in the photos released. The NIOC or Iranian National Tanker Company later denied it had claimed the explosions were due to a missile attack.: ""Two rockets struck an Iranian tanker traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Arabia on Friday, Iran's official state-run media said. The hull of the tanker "Sabiti" was hit by suspected missiles about 60 miles off the coast, French news agency AFP quoted Iran's state-owned National Iranian Tanker Company as saying. The statement, carried by Iran's state-run IRNA news agency, said two separate explosions were "probably caused by missile strikes." The Reuters news agency later reported, however, that the National Iranian Tanker Company had denied suggesting missiles hit its ship. "
Whatever the cause of the explosions they appear to have happened and caused enough damage to cause oil to be leaking. Unfortunately, neither Saudi Arabia nor anyone else so far has supplied commentary which could provide more information on what has happened or verified some aspects of the Iranian reports.
UPDATE: Photos of the Sabiti have emerged that show it was clearly damaged
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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