The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in Yemen said late Jan. 5 they received a distress call from an "oil tanker" transiting the Red Sea coming under "armed harassment" off the coast from unidentified attackers amid continued tensions in the key waterway for global trade.
Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience.Register Now
The Saudi-led forces, which are engaged in a seven-year conflict with Yemen's Houthi militant group, said the incident was close to the country's key port city of Hodeidah, according to Saudi state-run TV.
Security incidents targeting oil facilities, pipelines, tankers and shipping saw a steep upward trend in 2021, according to data compiled by S&P Global Platts Oil Security Sentinel. The number of incidents reported last year peaked, with 27 confirmed security events verified between Jan. 1 and Sept. 6. Since 2017, the Gulf of Oman, the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab chokepoint have experienced the majority of maritime attacks in the region, according to Platts' data.
The Red Sea is a critical shipping route. About 1.5 million b/d of crude oil from Persian Gulf states Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia move through the waterway and then through a pipeline via northern Egypt. The bulk of Europe's crude oil imports from the Middle East arrive via the route. Saudi ships about 10% of its total crude exports to Europe through the Red Sea.
In addition to the Saudi report, the UK Maritime Trade Operations said on Jan. 5 an unspecified merchant vessel issued a distress call 30 nautical miles west of the Yemeni port of Saleef. It is unclear if the two incidents are related.
The vessel was approached by an unknown craft, the UKMTO said.
The New Year has seen an uptick in maritime incidents in the region. On Jan. 3, the Saudi-led coalition accused the Houthi group of hijacking a UAE-flagged cargo ship, the RWABEE, in the Red Sea.
Houthi militants in Yemen have previously claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on Saudi Arabia's energy infrastructure, including pipelines and refineries.
Attacks along the Bab El Mandab chokepoint between Yemen and the Horn of Africa resulted in a temporary halt of oil shipments by Saudi Aramco along that trade route in 2018.
Following the latest incident, UKMTO asked vessels to exercise caution as they transit the area.