Saudi Arabia announced that it would hold off oil shipments through a key Red Sea lane, after Yemen’s Iran-affiliated rebels attacked two tankers in the waterway. This decision accentuates the risk of an escalated tension in the region.
Saudi Arabia and its arch enemy have been locked in a three-year proxy war in Yemen. Yemen lies on one side of the Bab al-Mandeb strait at the southern mouth of the sea and is the crucial route for oil tankers heading from the Middle East to Europe. On previous occasions, the Houthis threatened to block the strait. However, it announced that they have the competence to hit Saudi ports and also target other areas in the Red Sea. On the other hand, Iran threatened to block another important shipping route, i.e. the Strait of Hormuz.
Saudi’s Energy Minister mentioned that the Houthi militia attacked two Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea on 25th July. One oil tanker faced minimal damage. In response to this action, Saudi Arabia has decided to cutoff oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb Strait, until the situation improves and maritime transit through Bab al-Mandeb Strait becomes safe.
The Chairman of Kuwait Oil Tanker Company didn’t comment on the action they would take from their side. A powerful commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds criticized the US for their role in the world’s top oil exporting region.
The suspension won’t impact Saudi Arabia’s crude supplies to Asia. However, it could add shipping costs to Saudi vessels that would head to Europe and the US.
The latest attack on the tankers could strengthen Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s position ahead of the UN sponsored peace talks between Yemen’s battling parties. The Bab al-Mandeb Strait being just 18 miles wide makes ships an easy target. According to sources each tanker was full of crude oil cargo. The attacks were done by Saudi shipping company Bahri.