An explosion has occurred on an Iranian oil tanker in the Red Sea off Saudi Arabia, according to the Iranian Oil Ministry.
The ship was hit 60 nautical miles (111 kilometres) from the Saudi port of Jeddah on Friday morning by two missiles, the ministry said.
There were no casualties and all crew members were well, the ministry said, according to the state news agency IRNA.
The damage is slight and the crew have the ship back under control, it said.
However, experts are continuing to investigate the cause of the explosion, it added, without giving further details about the alleged rocket attack.
Photos of an oil tanker with a black column of smoke rising from it circulated on social media.
It was initially unclear which ship it was, but IRNA gave the oil tanker’s name as “Sabiti.” The Marine Traffic monitoring website, which specializes in shipping, said that “Sabiti” was last seen in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Since mid-August, the ship has communicated no current location and its systems are apparently switched off.
There was also speculation as to whether the vessel could be the Iranian-flagged oil tanker “Sinopa.”
According to Marine Traffic, it was last in the Red Sea off the coast of Jeddah travelling in a north-westerly direction.
At the time of the announcement by the Oil Ministry, “Sinopa” had also not sent any current location for about 10 hours.
The Red Sea, which separates Saudi Arabia from Egypt, Sudan and the Horn of Africa, is an important shipping route. To the north, the Suez Canal flows into the sea and it is bounded on the south by Bab al-Mandab.
This strait, like the Strait of Hormuz, is an important strategic bottleneck for international maritime trade and oil transport from the Gulf across the Arabian and Red Seas to the Mediterranean.
For months, a dispute has been smouldering between Iran and several western states, especially the US, which is also being fought out in international shipping lanes.
There have been several incidents, especially in the Strait of Hormuz, which lies between the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. It is one of the most important shipping routes worldwide. Almost a third of global oil exports are shipped through this strait.
The US has blamed Iran for various attacks on merchant ships in the area. Iran denies this vehemently. (dpa/NAN)