Ships 'Sabotaged' off UAE Coast

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2019-05-13

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Carla Babb at the Pentagon and Edward Yeranian in Cairo contributed to this report.

Saudi Arabia says two of its oil tankers suffered "significant damage" in a "sabotage attack" early Sunday off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. No details, however, about the specifics of the damage were released.

The kingdom's energy minister said one of the tankers had been on its way to the Saudi port of Ras Tanura to pick up oil to deliver to the United States.

The United States issued a warning early Monday about alleged "acts of sabotage" aimed at ships off the United Arab Emirates coast and last week warned ships that "Iran or its proxies'' could be targeting maritime traffic in the region. The warnings come at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

U.S. defense officials told VOA that the U.S. military is assisting in the investigation of the sabotage at the request of the UAE government.

Asked at the White House about the incident, President Donald Trump responded: "We'll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything, it will be a very bad mistake."

Earlier, the UAE said four commercial ships were subjected to "sabotage operations" Sunday near its territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, but did not give any details on the sabotage or who owned the ships, other than saying they were of different nationalities.

They say no one was hurt and no chemicals or fuel were spilled from the ships.

Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al Falih said the attack was meant to undermine "the security of oil supplies to consumers all over the world."

The UAE said Iranian and Lebanese news reports of explosions at the port of Fujairah were not correct, and added "media outlets must be responsible and rely on official sources."

The Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan all condemned the attack.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Monday in a statement that the attacks on the ships "are alarming and regrettable." He called for "further investigation," warning the incident may have been "part of a plot by parties trying to create havoc in the region."

A U.S. official familiar with American intelligence told Reuters news agency on the condition of anonymity that Iran is a leading candidate for having carried out attacks, but said the United States does not have conclusive proof Tehran was behind them.

The U.S. Maritime Administration had warned last week of what it called the "increased possibility that Iran and/or its regional proxies could take action against U.S. and partner interests ... by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers or U.S. military vessels."