U.S. Assessment: Iran's Involvement in Fujairah Attack "Highly Likely"

Attack location (EOS Risk Group)

Published May 17, 2019 5:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

American officials told U.S. media on Friday that it is "highly likely" that Iran was involved in the recent attack on four tankers at Fujairah. Norwegian war risk insurer DNK has reached a similar assessment, according to Reuters. 

Most private-sector analysts have suggested that the attackers used hand-placed limpet mine with explosive charges of less than five kilograms; however, the DNK report concludes that the attack was likely conducted with underwater drones, each carrying a charge of 30-50 kilograms of high explosives. As evidence for Iranian involvement, DNK cited a similarity between the shrapnel found on the Norwegian-flagged Andrea Victory at Fujairah and shrapnel found after surface drone boat attacks carried out previously by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. DNK intended the report as a confidential assessment for its shipowner clients, not for public release. 

An investigation carried out by the UAE with assistance from French and U.S. officials is expected to conclude within days. In the meantime, the UAE's foreign ministry has called for restraint and for all parties to avoid assigning blame until after the results of the inquiry are finalized.

“We need to emphasize caution and good judgment. It is easy to throw accusations but it is a difficult situation, there are serious issues and among them is Iranian behavior,” said UAE foreign affairs minister Anwar Gargash. “We will . . . be deliberate in considering our response, what to do about it, how to deal with it." 

Lloyd's expands war risk area

The Lloyd's Market Association Joint War Committee announced Friday that it was expanding its list of designated areas with enhanced risk due to the heightened tensions in the Middle East. Areas added include the territorial waters of Oman and the UAE, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman west of longitude 58 degrees east. 

"Very little information is to hand about the explosions at Fujairah anchorage on 12th May and the circumstances and methods employed remain unclear. There is no doubt that considerable damage was done and there will be significant claims," the committee wrote. "The JWC has met to review the situation and in the light of further information, has updated the Listed Areas to reflect the perceived heightened risk across the region. The situation will be kept under close review."

The exact level of ongoing risk to shipping is uncertain. According to EOS Risk Group, the attacks were likely a one-off strike designed to send a message, and further attacks in the immediate area are unlikely on a one-month timescale. Over the medium to long term, merchant shipping - particularly tanker shipping associated with the U.S., Saudi Arabia or the UAE - could be vulnerable if tensions persist or increase, EOS assesses.