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Explosion on ship leaving Saudi Arabia caused by an ‘external source’

December 14, 2020 at 1:22 pm

Cranes unload containers from the deck of ships in the Jeddah Islamic Port, 13 December 2007 [ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images]

An explosion on a ship leaving Saudi Arabia was caused by an ‘external source’, a shipping company has claimed, the Associated Press reported.

The Singapore-flagged vessel BW Rhine, sailing under a contract with the kingdom’s Saudi Arabian Oil Company, was damaged in an onboard blast just after midnight this morning.

The vessel’s 22 crew escaped unharmed, but the blast has forced Jeddah port, where the BW Rhine had been docked, to shut down.

A fire later broke out on the ship and was extinguished with help from the shore fire brigade and tugboats, according to a statement from the vessel’s owners, Hafnia.

The ship’s hull was damaged in the explosion and some oil may have leaked, the statement added, though the company said it was still assessing the damage.

The BW Rhine arrived at Jeddah port on Saturday with a cargo of more than 60,000 tonnes of unleaded gasoline from an Aramco refinery at Yanbu port, AP reported.

Hafnia claimed the tanker had “been hit from an external source whilst discharging” some of its cargo.

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The United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations (UKMTO) confirmed the explosion, reporting it happened southwest of Jeddah’s port, near an anchorage site for ships in the area.

The agency, which is part of the UK’s Royal Navy, urged nearby vessels to be cautious and said investigations, including unconfirmed reports of a second ship being involved, were ongoing.

According to ship-tracking website, at least two oil tankers were nearby when the explosion took place.

The apparent attack is the fourth targeted assault on Saudi Arabia’s energy infrastructure this month.

While in late November, a tanker off the coast of Saudi Arabia was damaged in a maritime terminal mine blast blamed on Yemen’s Houthis.

The group has not claimed the attack but last month took responsibility for a missile attack on a fuel distribution centre in the same city, Shuqaiq, near the Yemeni border.

The continued attacks have raised concerns over the safety of shipping lanes in the Red Sea, a key transit route for global oil supplies.

Tensions in the region have risen as the US, a Saudi ally, continues its maximum its pressure campaign on Iran, which backs the Houthis in the Yemeni civil war.

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