Left Menu
Development News Edition

U.S. and Gulf allies face tough task protecting oil shipping lanes

Reuters | Washington DC | Updated: 14-06-2019 20:48 IST | Created: 14-06-2019 20:42 IST
U.S. and Gulf allies face tough task protecting oil shipping lanes
Image Credit: Flickr

The United States and its allies may need to to start escorting commercial vessels to prevent further attacks in Gulf oil shipping lanes, Gulf sources and experts said. Even then, the conventional naval and air capabilities of Western and Gulf powers tasked with policing vital commercial waters may be of limited use against the asymmetric warfare tactics suspected in recent operations, including naval mines.

Six tankers have been hit in the past month in two attacks near the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world's oil passes, and Washington and Riyadh have accused Iran of being behind them, which Tehran denies. Two senior U.S. officials said on Thursday that the United States is discussing with its allies a variety of options on how to protect international shipping in the Gulf of Oman after two tankers, bearing Norwegian and Japanese flags, were crippled.

"We don't think this is over," one of the officials said of the possibility of more attacks. Three sources in the Gulf said few options exist: Gradually introduce the escort system used during the Iran-Iraq "Tanker War" in the 1980s and more recent Somali pirate attacks, adopt new rules of engagement, and conduct mine-sweeping operations.

"The Americans and others are speaking about the need for enhanced security in and around shipping routes, for protection for commercial vessels as the first step to convoys, and ability to fire under new rules of engagement at hostile speed boats approaching such vessels," one of the Gulf-based sources said. "You could see other powers sending navy ships eventually. It is a slower process now as moves are explored within the United Nations and to build a coalition."

Another source said the feasibility of Washington and its allies sending naval convoys to accompany tankers would need to be studied given heavy traffic in a confined waterway. It also risks exacerbating tensions. The Strait of Hormuz is 21 miles (33 km) wide at its narrowest point, with the shipping lane just two miles (three km) wide in either direction.

Oxford Research Group's chief executive, Richard Reeve, likened averting asymmetric attacks to defending against Improvised Explosive Device or suicide attacks on land forces. John Hammersmark, director of the security and crisis department at the Norwegian shipowners association, added: "The threat posed in this area is very hard for ships to defend against."

"It is the international community that has to take action with the measures they have at hand, not least government bodies. If this gets worse, shipping will come to a halt, at least parts of it," he told Reuters. HIGH STAKES DIPLOMACY

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, said on Thursday it had stepped up readiness to face any threat. Some experts say much depends on how President Donald Trump deals with Iran after his decision to exit a 2015 international nuclear pact last year, reimpose sanctions on Tehran and raise the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to perceived Iranian threats.

The U.S. and Saudi officials also blamed Tehran for a May 12 strike on four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, of the United Arab Emirates, which is submitting evidence to the U.N. Security Council. Tehran accused the three allies of "warmongering". U.N. chief Antonio Guterres has said the world cannot afford "a major confrontation in the Gulf region". China, the European Union and others called for restraint from all sides.

Riad Kahwaji, CEO of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said either the international community could push Washington to ease up on Iran, or continued attacks could encourage global pressure against the Islamic Republic. "If there was going to be a war ... it will be the international community against Iran. No one wants to slide into a long war against Iran," Kahwaji said.

The burden, he said, would fall on Western powers, particularly the United States but including France and Britain, to protect regional waters. "I would not be surprised to see the Chinese and Japanese sending ships to escort at least tankers and ships flying their colours," he said, given their dependence on Gulf oil.

The situation is reminiscent of the tanker war that erupted in 1984 during the eight-year Iraq-Iran conflict. Both sides attacked tankers and merchant ships in the Gulf in an escalation that threatened global oil supplies and internationalised the conflict. Lloyd's of London estimated that 546 commercial vessels were damaged and about 430 civilian sailors killed. To facilitate safe passage, the United State provided military protection by having its ships escort tankers, some of which carried the U.S. flag. The Soviet Union also agreed to charter tankers.

"What's happening now is different, this is not open conflict. How to protect waters and for how long is a big question. We don't want a war," said the second Gulf source.



Why COVID-19 is unstoppable in USA despite it being ranked at the top of GHS Index?

Several worst-hit countries such as Italy, France, Spain, the UK, Canada, and Russia have peaked COVID-19 cases in April. Almost all of them have gradually flattened the curve. However, the USA is setting new daily records of infections tha...

COVID-19 seems cooking biggest ever global scam

The increasing number of corruption cases on COVID-19 funds from throughout the world and involvement of high profile persons indicate that the countries cant ignore corruption in their pandemic response programs. This has generated the nee...

Health Management Information Systems lack holistic, integrated, and pandemic resilient character

Being a part of the United Nations system, the World Health Organization WHO deserves its share of rebuke for its alleged failure issue COVID-19 health emergency alerts on appropriate time. However, the pandemic has also exposed loopholes i...

Pride in the time of coronavirus: a welcome move online?

This year is different in many ways not least as celebrations are also taking place against the dramatic backdrop of a global health crisis and a resurgence in grassroots activism following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. ...


Latest News

Rupee weakens by 17 paise against US dollar in opening trade

The Indian rupee dropped 17 paise to trade at 75.16 against the American currency in opening deals on Friday on emergence of demand for US dollar from importers and banks. The local unit had closed at 74.99 a dollar on Thursday.Forex trader...

FOREX-Dollar, yen gain while risk currencies slip as U.S. coronavirus anxiety deepens

The dollar and other safe-haven currencies gained against their riskier peers on Friday after a surge in new coronavirus infections in the United States further undermined the case for a quick turnaround in the economy. More than 60,000 new...

Sports News Roundup: Frittelli, Watney and McCarthy tee off in Ohio; Woods ready to return, commits to Memorial and more

Following is a summary of current sports news briefs.Doping IOC sanctions weightlifter Binay after 2012 Games re-testTurkish weightlifter Mete Binay was disqualified from the 2012 London Olympics after a doping sample he provided at the Gam...

Olympic trials to be China's only international sport event this year

China will not hold any international sporting events this year aside from trials for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, underscoring the countrys wariness about imported COVID-19 infections amid the global pandemic.Chinas General Administra...

Give Feedback