International Desk: Two Saudi Arabian oil pumping stations were targeted in a drone attack on Tuesday morning, the kingdom’s energy minister said, as fears rose about the security of Saudi oil infrastructure.
The incident comes shortly after Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they had launched assaults on installations in the kingdom and a day after Saudi Arabia said two of its oil tankers were among those damaged by assaults off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.
Khalid al-Falih, Saudi energy minister, said the attack on the pumping stations, which sit on the vital East West Pipeline, resulted in a fire in one facility, leaving limited damage after the blaze was controlled.
The latest assault elevated worries about threats to oil infrastructure and shipping routes around Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of oil.
State oil company Saudi Aramco has suspended operations on the 1,200km-long pipeline, which transfers crude from the kingdom’s Eastern Province to Yanbu port on the Red Sea coast while the damage is being assessed.
“As a precautionary measure, the company temporarily shut down the pipeline, and contained the fire which caused minor damage to pump station 8,” it said.
The attack on the pipeline is significant because it represents one of the ways Saudi Arabia is able to send oil abroad without using the Strait of Hormuz.
“This is an attack targeting an alternative route to the Hormuz Strait,” said Anas Alhajji, an adviser to oil companies and producer countries. “It cannot be a random attack, this is a very sophisticated operation that requires knowledge and planning.”
The kingdom said oil production and exports from the country are continuing without disruptions. Still Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, rose $1.09 to $71.32 a barrel.
Before the statements from the Saudi authorities, a television channel owned by the Houthi militia group in Yemen said on Tuesday that the Iran-backed group had carried out attacks on Saudi targets using seven drones, without providing details.
The TV report said the operation was a response to “continued aggression” and that more strikes could follow.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia condemns this cowardly attack,” said Mr Falih, adding that “these attacks prove again that it is important for us to face terrorist entities, including the Houthi militias in Yemen that are backed by Iran”.
A spokesman for the Saudi State Security said authorities were investigating the drone strike.
According to tanker tracking firm Kpler, the port of Yanbu, where the pipeline terminates, has only been exporting a little over 100,000 barrels a day of crude in 2019, down sharply from last year when it was regularly exporting 500,000 to 700,000 b/d.
The majority of the crude it has exported this year has gone to Asia. Last year, when exports were higher, much was being shipped to Egypt for likely transshipment on to Europe.
The Houthis have previously used drones and missiles to attack Saudi targets across Yemen’s northern border with the kingdom and in the Red Sea.
The timing of the Houthis’ claim of a renewed aerial assault on Saudi targets threatens to complicate UN attempts to broker peace in Yemen, where more than 10,000 people have been killed amid a massive humanitarian disaster.
The UN has been monitoring the withdrawal of Houthi forces from three ports near Hodeidah, an important step in a peace plan agreed by the warring factions in Stockholm last December.
A successful withdrawal, which is scheduled for completion on Wednesday, would help secure the tentative ceasefire around the Red Sea city and allow the UN to seek a broader peace in Yemen.
Separately on Tuesday, Spain temporarily pulled its frigate Méndez Nuñez from its participation in a US-led combat fleet, saying it did not want the vessel to be part of US efforts to deter supposed Iranian aggression in the region.
Margarita Robles, the minister of defence, denied reports that Spain was leaving the combat fleet over concerns that it could be pulled to an unwanted conflict between Washington and Tehran. She said the decision was “not political but technical” and needed to be seen within a framework of “normality”.
risingbd/Dhaka/May 14, 2019/AI