An oil tanker off the Saudi Arabian port city of Jiddah exploded early Monday after being hit by “an outside source,” a shipping company said, suggesting another vessel was attacked off the kingdom’s coast mid-war years in Yemen.
The Singapore-flagged BW Rhine saw all 22 sailors on board escape without injury, BW Group said in a statement. The company warned that it was possible for oil to leak from the site of the explosion.
Saudi Arabia did not immediately recognize the explosion, which hit a port and distribution center crucial to its oil trade. However, this follows a mine attack last month that damaged an oil tanker off Saudi Arabia that authorities blamed on Houthi rebels in Yemen.
UK Maritime Trade Operations, an organization under the British Royal Navy, has urged ships in the region to exercise caution and said investigations are ongoing.
Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence company, also reported the explosion. No one immediately proposed a cause. The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the Middle East, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The explosion comes after a mine exploded and damaged a ship off Saudi Arabia last month. Another mysterious attack targeted a cargo ship off the small port town of Nishtun in far eastern Yemen earlier this month.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have already used sea mines in their long war against a Saudi-led coalition. However, the Houthis did not comment on the attack last month.
Dryad Global said if it was the Houthis behind Sunday’s blast, it “would represent a fundamental shift in targeting capabilities and intent.”
The Red Sea is a vital shipping lane for the world’s freight and energy supply, making any mining in the region a danger not only to Saudi Arabia but to the rest of the world. Mines can enter the water and then be washed away by the currents that change with the seasons in the Red Sea.
The Red Sea has already been mined. In 1984, some 19 ships reported striking landmines there, with only one being recovered and disarmed, according to a UN panel of experts investigating the war in Yemen.