The curious case of the Saudi tanker and the Houthi bomb ship

“Considerable degree of ambiguity” remains over coordinated attacks by skiffs off Yemen, security sources say.

The emergence of more details about the recent tanker attack by Houthi rebels off Yemen still leaves “a considerable degree of ambiguity”, according to security sources.

Initial reports suggested a Saudi Arabian aframax, Red Sea Marine Services’ 107,000-dwt aframax Gladiolus (built 1998), had been approached by pirate skiffs in the Gulf of Aden on 4 March 172 km south of Nishtun.

Two other vessels, the 156,000-dwt Ibaizabal Tankers suezmax Monte Urbasa (built 2018) and a Nakilat LNG carrier, the 210,184-cbf Al Nuaman (built 2009), had to take evasive action in the area.

The Saudi-led coalition in the region later reported the Houthi rebels in Yemen as behind the attack, which reportedly involved some unmanned vessels, including one that carried a water-borne improvised explosive device (WBIED). The government said it had thwarted what it regarded as a terrorist attack.

Security consultancy company has now revealed the results of its investigation into the events.

It said it had confirmed that three blue skiffs were seen at the tanker’s port bow while it was underway at 10.1 knots and the tanker adjusted course to pass clear of them.

The skiffs then commenced their approach.

Evasive action taken

All crew members apart from the bridge team and the embarked armed security team proceeded to the citadel, while the vessel conducted evasive manoeuvres.

Two more skiffs then approached from the port side and a third approached from the starboard side.

While one of the skiffs on the port side proceeded in parallel with the tanker’s course and cleared the tanker’s port quarter, the other skiffs proceeded to close with the tanker.

Following warning shots, the security team fired at the skiff approaching from the port side, but this boat hit the tanker’s hull. The craft appears to have been unmanned.

No material damage to the vessel or injury to either the crew or security team have been reported.

Red Sea Marine has been contacted for comment.

Security consultancy company said it understands debris from the skiff that struck the hull was recovered by the AST on board the tanker.

TankerTrackers’ data indicates Gladiolus maintained a consistent speed of 10.9 knots throughout and did not alter course.

A number of photos purporting to have been taken from its deck have emerged.

They show a small unmanned fishing vessel speeding towards it, but then veering away.

Packed with explosives?

Security consultancy company said the craft’s behaviour did not match the characteristics of a vessel laden with enough explosives to penetrate a double hull.

“The positioning of the photographer on deck, at the right place and time could be regarded as mere luck or selective placement; the presence of a fast approaching unmanned speedboat at such close range to a laden vessel would not usually prompt a crew member to take photographs of what potentially could be a significant explosion,” the consultancy said.

And it questioned why Saudi Arabia has not released images of any explosion.

The incident also does not mirror previous Houthi attacks, which have principally been confined to the Red Sea.

“It remains a realistic possibility that this attack has either not occurred in the manner Saudi Arabia has portrayed it has, or has been knowingly exaggerated for strategic effect,” the company concluded.

Source: TradeWinds