Iran: Attack on Tanker Sabiti was Government-Backed

One of two holes in the Sabiti's hull (Image courtesy NIOC / state media)

Published Oct 15, 2019 8:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said that "one or several" foreign governments were behind the attack on the Iranian tanker Sabiti last Friday. 

“The attack on the Iranian oil tanker has been a complicated measure  . . . and was a state-sponsored action,” Zarif told state media. “The investigations are in progress, and we won’t accuse any government until we acquire hard facts about it."

The attack, which Iranian officials described as a series of missile strikes, occured about 60 miles off the coast of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia as Sabiti transited northwards. On this course, the location of the hull damage - the starboard side - would have been oriented towards Saudi shores at the time of the incident. 

The Saudi government is Tehran's primary regional opponent, and tensions between the two nations are high: Iran has been widely accused of involvement in the recent missile strike on Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq oil processing complex, one of the most important petroleum facilities in the world. Iran has refrained from blaming Saudi Arabia for the attack on the Sabiti, and the Saudi government has denied any connection to the incident. 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned Sunday that Tehran would respond once it has identified the attacker. “It is an absolute mistake for a country to think that it could create insecurity in the region without receiving a response," he said. On Monday, in a rare press conference, Rouhani added that "this wasn’t a terrorist move, nor was it carried out by an individual. It was carried out by a government."

Sabiti under way for Bandar Abbas

The attack breached the Sabiti's inner hull, leading to the release of an unknown quantity of oil into the Red Sea. After the incident, the Sabiti reversed course and headed south towards the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, spilling oil as she went. AIS data shows that she rendezvoused with an Iranian spy ship, the Saviz, for about 14 hours on Saturday night. The Saviz, an Iranian-flagged freighter, maintains a permanent position at anchor in the middle of the Red Sea, about 120 nm northwest of the contested Yemeni port of Hodeidah. Saviz has been accused of serving as a support platform for Iran-backed Houthi rebels in attacks on Saudi shipping.