Iran Says Missiles Struck Oil Tanker Near Saudi Red Sea Port

Iran reports heavy damage, no casualties ■ 'Experts believe it was a terrorist attack,' according to report ■ "No help was offered to assist by any country," official says

An oil tanker is on fire in the Gulf of Oman following an attack on June 13, 2019
,AP

An Iranian-owned oil tanker was struck by two missiles off the Saudi port of Jeddah on Friday, Iranian state television reported, quoting the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) which owns the vessel.

The tanker was set ablaze, destroying two storerooms causing an oil leak into the Red Sea, about 60 miles (96 km) from Jeddah, according to Iranian media. A leaking from its hull was reportedly brought under control later in the morning, according to press agency IRNA.

Iran's foreign ministry confirmed the ship had been hit twice in the Red Sea on Friday morning, state TV reported.

The alleged attack is the latest incident involving oil tankers in the Red Sea and Gulf region, and is likely to ratchet up tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, which operates in the region, said it was aware of media reports about the tanker, but did not have any further information at this time.

There was no immediate comment from Saudi Arabia.

Iran's ISNA news agency cited a source saying the vessel was struck in a "terrorist" attack. Iran's state television reported that two of its tanks were damaged.

Tensions are already high in the Red Sea shipping area, which links the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.

It follows strikes on key Saudi oil installations in September and attacks on tankers in the Gulf area in May and June. The United States has blamed Iran, which denied any role.

Oil prices jumped 2% after reports of the tanker explosion, with benchmark Brent and U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures rising more than $1 a barrel.

A NIOC statement, carried by Iranian media, identified the ship as Sabiti, a Suezmax vessel, after initial reports had identified it as the Sinopa, another Suezmax ship.

Refinitiv ship tracking data gave the Sabiti's last reported position on August 14 as off the southern coast of Iran in the Gulf. It said the Sinopa was in the Red Sea, according the latest data updated on October 10.

Information from ship movement monitors showed Sabiti had kept its tracker off for the last two months - not an unusual move for ships trying to avoid U.S. sanctions. The device now shows the ship in the Red Sea, reportedly heading south back towards the Persian gulf, and fully loaded, according to TankerTrackers.com.

An Iranian official said the ship was still in the same location, but would soon alter course.

"It is still in the Red Sea but its route will change ... No help was offered to assist by any country," an official from the National Iranian Tanker Company said, according to ISNA.

Iran's Nour news agency, which is close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, said the crew was safe.

The September 14 attacks on Saudi oil sites in the east of the kingdom shut down 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd) of production, about half of Saudi output and roughly 5% of global supply. Output has since been restored.

Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group claimed responsibility for those attacks, but a U.S. official said they originated from southwestern Iran. Riyadh blamed Tehran. Iran denied any role.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.