Saudi oil tanker hit in Houthi attack off Yemen

The EU naval force has revealed a Saudi Arabian tanker attacked by Yemen’s Houthi militia on Tuesday was a Bahri VLCC.The 303,000-dwt Abqaiq (built 2002) was en route from Ras Tanura in Saudi Arabia to Ain Sukhna in Egypt when it was targeted.

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen has said the group attacked a Saudi-flagged oil tanker in the Red Sea, while the insurgents claim they struck one of the country’s warships. The attack came on April 3, 2018, but resulted in only superficial damage to the ship in question. At some point, a coalition warship intervened and accompanied the ship as it continued North in the Red Sea.

The incident does come after the Iranian-backed movement said it could decide to strike at commercial shipping and otherwise look to hamper maritime movement through the region if the Saudis and their allies did not withdraw from the area around the last rebel-held port city of Al Hudaydah.

If the Saudi version of events is confirmed, this would be the second rebel attempt to damage or destroy commercial vessel since the beginning of the year. On Jan. 6, 2018, the Houthis attacked another tanker, but did not cause any damage. In that case, they reportedly used an unmanned, explosive filled boat.
The group have used these unmanned craft in a number of previous attacks and attempted attacks on naval vessels, including against the Saudi frigate Al Madinah near Al Hudaydah in 2017. The group has also used anti-ship missiles and sea mines to attack other coalition ships, as well as American warships in response to the U.S. government’s logistical support and other military aid to Saudi Arabia.
In addition to deliberate attacks on ships, military or commercial, the Houthis have also been employing improvised naval mines near the Mandeb Strait. These weapons pose a more indiscriminate threat and could help the group make good on Samad’s threat to impede “international navigation.”
Houthis do have access to anti-ship missiles, drone boats, and naval mines, among other increasingly advanced weaponry, and that they have been and still are a real threat military and commercial marine traffic in and around the Mandeb Strait. With continued and potentially increasing support from Iran, the group’s ability to launch stand-off attacks at sea and on land could further improve in the near term. (Video of controlled WBIED (Shark-33) 13 nm off the coast of Al Hudaydah destroyed from Saudi-led coalition)
In addition, the Houthis have also stepped up ballistic missile attacks against Saudi Arabia in recent months(Coalition forces intercept, destroy seven missiles fired toward Saudi Arabia), as well as presenting an increasing challenge against Saudi-led coalition aircraft using surface-to-air missiles. In both cases, the Saudis, as well as the United States, have accused Iran of either supplying the rebels with those weapons or aiding in their local fabrication.
However, attacks on international shipping could threaten to escalate the conflict into a broader regional issue.
The investigation is still on progress for the exact details of this latest incident, it seems clear, at least so far, that any fears of prompting an even more ferocious Saudi response or provoking a wider conflict have not caused the Houthis to shy away from attacking ships in the area.