De Faakto Intelligence Research Observatory
Attack No. 2 Sabotage Commercial Vessels in the Strait of Hormuz-An Open Source Study
Situation-Sabotage Attack on Commercial Vessels in the Strait of Hormuz
Background & Analysis
In early May 2019, United Arab Emirates (UAE) reported four commercial vessels were sabotaged near its territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz. On June 13 a second attack occurred in the region. Two ships were targeted this time and both ships sustained severe damage to the hulls from explosions and fires. One of the ships loaded with Naphtha burned for hours. The other ship sustained a fire in the engine room. Reports indicate that Limpet mines, torpedoes or some type of projectiles were fired at the vessels. The U.S. Navy has video footage of a navel crew suspected to be Iranian, removing unexploded ordinance from the side of one of the vessels. The tankers are being towed to territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates for investigation and salvage operations. The attacks happened during meetings with Japans Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Abe was attempting to broker diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran. Iranian leaders will only enter negotiations on their terms. Iran sees the Strait of Hormuz and transportation of global energy and security as a key leverage point with Washington and Riyadh. (Guardian, 2019) Iran denies any involvement in the tanker sabotage. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. assessment of Iran’s involvement was based in part on intelligence as well as the expertise needed for the operation. (Washington Post, 2019) Tensions will continue to escalate in the region between Iran, the U.S. & regional players with stake in the energy sector. The U.S. Navy is now considering commercial vessel security escorts in the Strait of Hormuz. Two commercial shipping lines have already suspended future shipping operations in the region because the heightened risk involved.
Two ships were attacked in the Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman
- A tanker received damage which breached the hull at the waterline-this ship was attacked twice causing a fire in the engine room
- A second vessel an Aframax Tanker, was hit by a torpedo at the waterline, other reports suggested a mine attack was more likely, the vessel hull was breached and the vessel loaded with naphtha took fire
- Crews from both tankers were evacuated safely, there were some injuries
What Vessels Were Damaged?
- Cargo Destination-Singapore
- Cargo- methanol
- According to Bernhard Schulte Ship Management, Panama-listed tanker Kokuka Courageous was attacked and damaged (Reuters, 2019)
Altair- Aframax-class Tanker
- Cargo Destination-Taiwan
- Cargo- flammable hydrocarbon mixture naphtha
- According to Taiwanese refiner CPC Corp, which had chartered the vessel, the Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair, was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo” (Reuters, 2019)
- The ship burned for hours (Washington Post, 2019)
- The Altair was reported to have sunk, however these claims turned out to be false
- The inaccurate claims of the ship sinking came from Iranian media source-Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA)
Why Were These Vessels Targeted?
It is unknown exactly why the tankers were targeted
- Some of the cargo was Japan related products
- The incidents took place while Japans Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei
- Abe had been hoping to broker talks between Trump and the Iranian president Khamenei, Khamenei rejected the idea after meeting the Japanese Prime Minister (The Guardian, 2019)
Where Did the Sabotage Take Place?
- The suspected attacks occurred at dawn Thursday May 13, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) off the southern coast of Iran, in the Strait of Hormuz, in the Gulf of Oman (Washington Post, 2019)
What Were The Results of The Sabotage Attacks on the Vessels?
- There was a 4% increase in the price of oil (Reuters, 2019)
- Ship brokers have suspended new operations bookings in the Strait of Hormuz
- There have been no reports of environmental marine damage
- The U.S. will revaluate its presence in the region and is considering a plan to provide military escorts for merchant ships navigating the area (Washington Post, 2019)
What is The Strait of Hormuz?
- The Strait of Hormuz is a waterway that separates Iran and Oman, linking the Gulf of Oman with the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea
- The Strait is 21 miles (33 km) wide at its narrowest point, but the shipping lane is just two miles (three km) wide in either direction (Haaretz, 2019)
Who is Responsible for these Sabotage Attacks?
- The U.S. blamed Iran for suspected attacks on two oil tankers Thursday near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, denouncing what it called a campaign of “escalating tensions” in a region crucial to global energy supplies (Washington Post, 2019)
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. assessment of Iran’s involvement was based in part on intelligence as well as the expertise needed for the operation.
- The assessment was also based on recent incidents in the region when four oil tankers near Fujairah were attacked using Limpet mines to damage the hulls at the waterline
- Saudi officials also blame Iranian backed fighters for bombing of an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia
- Iran denied being involved in the attacks
Why are these Sabotage Attacks Happening?
- The U.S. has imposed tighter sanctions on Iran’s crude exports (Financial Times, 2019)
- Since withdrawing from a 2015 international nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, the Trump Administration has put pressure on Iran with oil sanctions, eliminating waivers that allowed some countries to buy Iranian oil in an attempt to cut crude exports to zero (Reuters, 2019)
- Iran says it will not let its oil exports be halted (Financial Times, 2019)
- According to U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Mike Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff; Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the strait in case of a military confrontation with the U.S. “Iranian leaders have publicly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz; they have backed up those threats with actions, posturing their forces in an effort to intimidate the movement of international trade and energy sources.” (Maritime Executive, 2019)
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calls the initial attacks in early May “a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran.” (Washington Post, 2019)
Why Does the Strait of Hormuz Matter?
- The Strait of Hormuz, is a vital global oil and gas shipping route (Reuters, 2019)
- The Majority of crude oil exported from Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Kuwait and Iraq is shipped through this waterway (Haaretz, 2019)
- Qatar is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of liquefied natural gas-nearly all of Qatar’s liquefied natural gas is shipped via the Strait of Hormuz (Haaretz, 2019)
- 100 million barrels of oil per day or one fifth of global oil consumption moves through the Strait of Hormuz (Haaretz, 2019)
Are There Alternative Routes to Transport Oil in Region?
- The UAE and Saudi Arabia have sought to find other routes to bypass the Strait; including building more oil pipelines (Haaretz, 2019)
Two oil tankers attacked in Gulf of Oman-The Guardian (2019) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/13/oil-tankers-blasts-reports-gulf-of-oman-us-navy
Tankers struck near Strait of Hormuz; US blames Iran-The Washington Post (2019) https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/japan-says-abes-iran-trip-not-meant-to-mediate-row-with-us/2019/06/13/13ad840e-8d9d-11e9-b6f4-033356502dce_story.html?utm_term=.9328b52cc000
Factbox: Latest on tanker attacks south of Strait of Hormuz-Reuters (2019) https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-tankers-facts/factbox-latest-on-tanker-attacks-south-of-strait-of-hormuz-idUSKCN1TE142
Four Ships Sabotaged at UAE Port-Financial Times (2019) https://www.ft.com/content/77557d4e-74e9-11e9-be7d-6d846537acab
Sabotaged Tanker in Gulf of Oman Leaked Oil-BBC (2019) https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-48387033
Four Ships Sabotaged in the Gulf of Oman Amid Tensions-BBC (2019) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48245204
US ‘blames Iran’ for damage to tankers in Gulf of Oman-BBC (2019) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48264499
U.S. Says Iranian Limpet Mines Used Were Used in Fujairah Tanker Attacks-Splash247.com (2019) https://splash247.com/category/region/middle-east/
Strait of Hormuz: UAE ‘Sabotage Attack’ Puts Focus on the World’s Most Important Oil Artery-Haaretz & Reuters (2019) https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/strait-of-hormuz-uae-sabotage-attack-puts-focus-on-world-s-key-oil-artery-1.7226823
U.S. Accuses Iran of Carrying Out Fujairah Attacks-The Maritime Executive (2019) https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/u-s-accuses-iran-of-carrying-out-fujairah-attacks
UAE Says Four Vessels Subjected to Sabotage Near Fujairah Port-Reuters (2019) https://www.reuters.com/article/us-emirates-fujairah-port-shipping/uae-says-four-vessels-subjected-to-sabotage-near-fujairah-port-idUSKCN1SI0EG