13 MAR 2021
With tensions already high across the Middle East after a spate of recent incidents, Saudi Arabia’s oil port was briefly shelled over the weekend. The Ras Tanura port, which is one of the world’s largest oil ports, suffered only minor damage according to Saudi officials and remained fully operational.
It is not the first time that the facilities at Ras Tanura have come under attack as they were also assaulted in 2019. That attack caused more significant damage that interrupted a portion of the operation. “The attacks did not result in any injury or loss of life or property,” a spokesman for the Saudi Energy Ministry confirmed after yesterday’s incident.
The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, fighting in Yemen, took responsibility for the latest attack. Bloomberg is quoting reports from the rebel-run Al Masirah television saying that eight ballistic missiles and 14 drones carrying bombs were launched at Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Energy Ministry confirmed that an oil storage tank farm at Ras Tanura was attacked by one or more drones from the sea. The drones reportedly fit the oil tank farm but caused little damage. Also, a missile or debris from the missile landed in a near-by residential compound for the facility. Residents in the community reportedly took shelter and no one was harmed and the damage was said to be minor.
The attacks were more psychological to once again highlight the vulnerability of the giant oil facility. More than 6.5 million barrels of oil move through the facility each day. Ras Tanura supplies as much as seven percent of the world’s oil consumption.
Iran has been suspected of being behind or support a variety of recent attacks in the region. Several ships have come under attack including an Israeli-owned car carrier. The Arab News is quoting reports from inside Iran that linked hardline Iranian sources to the attack on the Israeli ship. They called it “a legitimate target” accusing the ship of spying for the Israeli government.
Recently, the United Nations has expressed growing concern over the Houthi rebels and the danger that they might strike out or that ships might become caught in the crossfire of the conflict. The UN has been trying to reach an agreement with the rebels to commence inspections and repairs on a rusting FSO off the coast of Yemen before it causes an environmental disaster. At the end of 2020, the UN announced it had a deal with the rebels but recently has accused them of backing out of the deal or seeking or renegotiate the terms. The UN has long feared the rebels might attack the neglected oil storage vessel using similar tactics to what is believed to have happened in Saudi Arabia yesterday.
The international community condemned Sunday’s attack but so far it has not provoked any additional actions.