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Iran oil tanker ‘explosion’ reported off Saudi coast

Crude oil tanker, Amjad, which was one of two reported tankers that were damaged in mysterious "sabotage attacks" this year Image copyright AFP
Image caption Four ships, including the Saudi vessel Amjad (pictured above), were sabotaged earlier this year

An explosion has caused a fire on an Iranian tanker near the coast of Saudi Arabia, Iranian media say.

The vessel, from Iran’s national oil company (NIOC), was 60 miles (97km) from the Saudi port of Jeddah.

The ship’s two main storage tanks are said to have been damaged, causing an oil spill in the Red Sea, but no-one was reportedly injured.

Iran’s foreign ministry claimed the vessel was “targeted twice” but did not provide further details.

On Friday morning, an official with Iran’s national tanker company (NITC) said the vessel was struck by missiles “probably” from Saudi Arabia.

That statement was retracted, according to the country’s state-run IRNA news agency.

The explosion is yet to be independently verified, and details of the tanker itself are unclear. Iranian state TV earlier identified it as the Sinopa, but the NIOC later said it was another vessel named Sabiti.

Publicly-available ship tracking records show both ships are currently in the Red Sea. The Sinopa turned its transmitter on earlier this week after more than 50 days. The Sabiti switched its tracker on Friday morning for the first time in nearly 60 days.

A source at maritime analytics firm Windward told the BBC it was common for such ships to turn off their automatic identification system (AIS) trackers to avoid detection – often to evade international sanctions or harassment from Saudi Arabia.

Because of regulations, such vessels must turn their AIS back on close the Suez Canal. The Windward source said Sabiti was behaving unusually because it switched its AIS back on hundreds of miles from the Suez, after being “dark” for two months.

The incident came amid heightened tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Last month, 18 drones and seven cruise missiles hit a major oil field and processing facility in Saudi Arabia, which blamed Iran for the attack.

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Media captionHow sanctions affect Iran… in five objects

And US officials said Iran was responsible for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf in June and July, as well as attacks on another four tankers in May.

Iran denied involvement in all the incidents.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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