Saudi Red Sea oil shipments halted after Houthi attack

Iran-backed Houthis hit Saudi oil tanker off Yemen coast

Saudi Arabia said today it is "temporarily halting" all oil shipments through the Red Sea shipping lane of Bab al-Mandeb after an attack on two Bahri VLCCs by Yemen's Houthi movement.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the Houthis attacked two Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea on Wednesday, one of which sustained minimal damage.

The Houthis, aligned to Saudi Arabia's arch-foes Iran, warned that they have the naval capacity to hit more "targets" on the Bab El-Mandeb Strait, a key route for exporting oil from the Middle East to Europe.

"This terrorist attack is a risky threat to the freedom of navigation and worldwide trade in the Red Sea", said Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition.

Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015 at the head of a military coalition backing the country's government after Huthi rebels ousted it from the capital Sanaa the previous year.

Nearly 10 years ago, the oil market was shocked by the news that a Saudi oil tanker, Sirius Star, was hijacked by Somali pirates.

In a statement carried by the Yemeni news agency, the government said the incident is a terrorist act aiming to harm the vital interests of Yemen and the freedom of worldwide navigation.

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As for the Gulf states, they have discussed contingency plans previously in 2012 and 2013 in the event of a Strait of Hormuz closure.

"The attack is an act of terrorism that has threatened the regional security and peace", Dr Abdullatif bin Rashed Al Zayani said late on Thursday.

A decision was taken quickly to halt all oil and product shipments in the Red Sea that go through the narrow channel.

The Bab al-Mandab Strait, one of the world's busiest shipping routes, is the southern entrance to the Red Sea.

The Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly raised alarm that Huthi rebels threaten vessels in the Red Sea through their control of the strategic Hodeida port.

Any move to block the strait would virtually halt oil shipments through Egypt's Suez Canal and the SUMED crude pipeline linking the Red Sea and Mediterranean.

"The targeted attack on the Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea confirms the necessity to liberate Hodeida from Houthi militias", said Gargash, whose country is part of the Saudi-led coalition. Such a solution would avert an assault on the port, which is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.

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Yemen´s government, in a statement Thursday carried by the state-run Saba news agency, condemned the attack on shipping and urged the global community to "immediately stand with and support" the coalition in its fight against the Huthis. Anything north of 4.0% could be bullish for prices because strong economic growth will mean greater demand for crude oil.

Data compiled by Reuters news agency indicates that Saudi crude exports through Bab al-Mandeb are estimated to be 500,000-700,000 bpd.

The coalition has carried out a campaign of thousands of air strikes and restricted imports into Yemen, worsening what the United Nations says is potentially the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

At least 10,000 people have been killed and thousands others wounded in the conflict in Yemen, one of the world´s most impoverished nations.

Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said on Friday the market remained volatile and responded to verbal interventions, adding that the market had priced in risks related to US sanctions against Iran.

James Dorsey, an expert on Middle East affairs, said the attacks on oil tankers would draw global attention to Yemen.

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